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Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Whatever you do, make sure that the theater where you see this new documentary from Werner Herzog is showing the 3D version. I’m not a big fan of 3D to begin with—frankly it’s a gimmick I hope will pass on soon, as it adds nothing to most films and results in a murky image. But if Herzog wants to use it, I want to see what he decides to do with it.

Herzog got access to film inside the Chauvet caves of Southern France, which prior to their uncovering in 1994 had been sealed (by a rockslide) for about 10,000 years. Inside the caves are wall paintings that are about 32,000 years old, twice as old as any previously discovered primitive art. The paintings are invaluable for numerous reasons other than their antiquity: They give new insight into the development of primitive man, and they record directly observed images of long extinct animals.

The caves are also very delicate, so much so that the French government has limited access to them almost entirely. Any human presence degrades the atmosphere, and the caves are corroding simply from exposure to fresh air after having been sealed for so long.

The idea of using 3D to record cave paintings may sound like a bit of a joke until you see the images. The 400 paintings make use of the uneven surfaces on which they were made, working the contours of the rock walls into depictions of motion. In other words, these images cannot properly be seen at all without the 3D format.

Historical and cultural importance aside, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is filled with the kind of unexpected tangents and bizarre commentary we have come to expect from Herzog, all delivered in that singular accent (the result of a German native learning English in Canada, or so he says). He encounters various oddballs of the kind you would expect to become obsessed with a discovery of this nature, and pushes them for all that they’re worth. And there’s a final rumination involving albino alligators that is pure Herzog.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Cave of Forgotten Dreams

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