Cave of Forgotten Dreams
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Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Still courtesy of TIFF.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Directed by Werner Herzog (USA, Real to Reel)
The trickiest thing about watching Cave of Forgotten Dreams is not falling asleep. This isn’t to say that it’s boring. It’s not. But the combination of darkened theatre, light dampening 3-D specs, and Werner Herzog’s mellifluous voice melting in your ear makes for a one-way ticket to dreamland. Herzog’s foray into 3-D filmmaking is, by and large, successful, constituting one of the best uses of the medium to date (perhaps trumped only by Avatar and Piranha 3-D).
Following the success of docs like Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, Cave sees Herzog again playing master documentarian, a mode which may just be an elaborate cover for his real knack for playing master narrator. Herzog takes a small film-crew armed with handheld 3-D cameras into the Chauvet Cave in France, home to wall paintings that date back at least thirty-thousand years. Restricted to the public for preservation purposes, Herzog was given incredible access, even if he was only allowed to be in there for a few hours a day, due to fears of the lights damaging the site and excessive human breathing causing mould. The paintings themselves are incredible, and the technology gives a real sense of depth to the images, many of which were applied over numerous nooks and crannies.
But deeper than the image field are Herzog’s now meme-worthy profundities. In his trademark Terutonic lilt, he marvels at the Paleolithic paintings made to suggest the movement of animals (“Is it a kind of proto-cinema?”) and even poses the question of whether the human soul was itself born in these caves. Though the film feels distended at times, like a coffee table book turned into a feature-length movie, the 3-D images and Herzog’s leavening narration elevate it through to the end. Provided you can stay awake.
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