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DVD: Cave of Forgotten Dreams | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

DVD: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog descends into the unknown

Werner Herzog listens to his heartbeat

Good cinema can show us the unimaginable, the unknowable. As does Werner Herzog’s documentary, taking us deep into the Chauvet Caves in the Ardèche in southern France. Discovered in 1994, they contain the oldest known cave paintings. Created 32,000 years ago, they were preserved after a fortuitous rock fall sealed the cave’s original entrance.

Herzog and his team of three assistants were recently granted limited access by the French Ministry of Culture. Battery-powered lights were used, along with a 3D camera. The group were restricted to a narrow steel walkway, unable to touch the rock surfaces or examine them at close hand. Watching the film on a 2D print still conveys the extra-terrestrial strangeness of the cave interior – a beguiling, oddly sensuous landscape of curves, swirls and bulges. The textures glisten and gleam, the walls looking both fragile and impermeable. And the moment when we first set eyes on the paintings is breathtaking – lucid, living sketches of horses, bison and deer, drawn with fluidity and grace, their contours magically matching those of the cave walls. Just as startling are the calcified animal bones and skulls that litter the floor, together with bear footprints and claw marks.

Herzog’s doom-laden, heavily accented voiceover is unintentionally amusing in several places: “Do they dream? Do they cry at night?” he ponders, considering the lives of the Chauvet artists. “Listen to the silence in the cave. Listen to our heartbeat,” he murmurs, as an amplified heartbeat rather cheesily fills the soundtrack. You could happily look at the images in silence.

The sections where we leave the cave and consult a parade of Palaeolithic pundits also offer comedy. Funniest is a bearskin-wearing chump who attempts to prove that "The Star-Spangled Banner" could have been played on a prehistoric flute made from animal bone. He’s clearly whistling through his teeth, almost obliterating the breathy squeaks emerging from his pentatonic pipe. But you’ll forgive Herzog the occasional wrong turning. His awe and enthusiasm are infectious, and he’s showing us images which few of us can ever hope to see for real.

Watch the trailer for Cave of Forgotten Dreams


The moment when we first set eyes on the paintings is breathtaking


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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