Cave of Forgotten Dreams
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 16th October 2011
If you’re already into cave paintings and find the prospect of Werner Herzog’s awestruck voiceover compelling, you’ll love this. If you suffer from ennui or claustrophobia whenever you watch a documentary that features two-dimensional mammoth drawings or people climbing through tiny spaces, you can look away now.
Herzog is a remarkable film-maker who seems to light upon a new topic that fascinates him, then long to share that passion with us. As a boy he saved his pocket money to buy a book he’d spied in a thrift store, subsequently poring over it in wonderment. The book was about cave paintings, and ignited a fire that would be stoked decades later in customary random-crazy-Herzog fashion.
In 1994, a group of scientists discovered a series of caves in Southern France, within which paintings said to be 32,000 years old line the walls. Having closed off the caves to the public, the authorities awarded Herzog exclusive access, enabling him to take a skeleton crew of film-makers and historians inside, record the artworks and discuss their likely origins. Shot in 3D, it’s a slow, beautiful, potentially soporific film composed of long shots that take us as close as we’ll ever get to such unfathomable examples of real history.