‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ Review (2010) ★★★★★

Werner Herzog, along with his film crew, go on a journey in exploring the Chauvet Caves of Southern France wherein the oldest cave drawings in history find their residence. What may seem to be an educational, boring History Channel flick, is actually an incredibly theological film concerning art and humanity with an emphasis on the importance of stories traveling from one period to the next. A fascinating aspect of this documentary has to be the fact that it is shot in 3D, something still to be rarely found within documentary features.

Art as a time machine. This statement, hinted at by Herzog, reveals to his audience the essential qualities of story-telling. We are given the privilege to witness history unfold as these paintings rekindle the past in ways never before imagined. Scientists’ curiosity of long extinct creatures is quenched through these cave paintings, giving insight to certain species’ family ties, battles, and even portraits. In fact, one of the most astonishing facets of this discovery is undoubtedly found in the high quality of these drawings. Even though they age far beyond 40,000 years, the level of intactness and purity (surprisingly little decay) dumbfounded archaeologists whom questioned the authenticity of the art merely for their clarity.

As Herzog’s exploration within the cave develops, we are introduced to certain drawings “in motion”. Drawings that seem to be moving in a motion-driven path, similar to present-time animation revealing a primitive form of cinema even in the age of the Neanderthals. Werner Herzog makes sure to draw clear and distinct relations between the cave art and cinema in it of itself. We are left believing in cinema as a time machine, and this Herzog film as a means to communicate with future generations, consequently blurring the lines of time.

In terms of being shot in 3D, I find this feature not only to be a luxury, but an absolute necessity. The depths and details portrayed in these cave artworks may only be done justice through 3D. When thinking back to 40,000 years, one cannot help but judge the primitiveness of the time. However, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a declaration in solidifying the true artistic roots of our time, by tracing back to their origins. These cave dwellers had true artistic merit, knowing the value of shades, proportion and even montage effects. We are even given a hint at ownership, when one of the artists signs his work with a hand print, showing an attachment not only to his pieces, but to the cave as well, becoming one with the walls. How important is this concept? The signature. We do this every single day in every single way possible. Most notably for our purposes, in the credits of films. As the screen fades to black, the first thing we see is “A film by…” similarly paralleled to the hand print as its own mark of ownership. A plethora of artistic traditions prevalent in today’s society can be easily traced back about 40,000 years in the past, remaining a strong feature of a society widely viewed as philosophically absent.

Towards the end of the film, notions of self-reflexivity and art as imitation fluidly enter into discussion. Herzog proposes a parallel between these cave arts and this cinematic art. Demonstrating how both attempt in revealing nature and reality, yet by doing so, reveal their own falsity. As we delve further into the topic, one is forced to look into their own situation. Are we looking at a mirror image of ourselves, or is what is being shown to us not a reflection, but rather a doppelganger? In others words, should we take these cave drawings as merely artifacts of the past, or can we admit that what we do today will surely echo in the metaphorical caves of eternity?

Thank you for reading,

Omar Antonio Iturriaga

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