Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) is a documentary film directed by Werner Herzog. The film was shot primarily in the Chauvet Cave in France, where Palaeolithic era paintings was made by people in those times.
Herzog narrates the film throughout; he gives his opinion and during the interviews engages in an active conversation with the interviewees. While engaging in an almost art-historical analysis the film also has an overt philosophical undertone: in his narration concerning the paintings’ artistic significance Herzog furthermore addresses the nature of time; the way it preserves and simultaneously transcend human achievements, the disposition of human productions to outlive their creators, and the impossibility of reassembling and recreating the past from artefacts alone.
Drawing attention to the medium Herzog addresses cinema as he refers to the curvature of the rocks (rendered in 3D) as they lend to the drawings the illusion of movement; he likens this to ‘proto-cinema’. And as with cinema, the process of viewing the art in the cave, letting in air and light, ultimately contributes to and hastens its systematic decay.
In one of the last scenes from the film Herzog speaks about the mutant crocodiles that he filmed in the tropical biosphere habitat on the Rhone River in France: “The Chauvet Cave is located only 20 miles as the crow flies beyond these hills in the background. A surplus of warm water, which has been used to cool these [nuclear] reactors, is diverted half a mile away to create a tropical biosphere”. As the crocodiles see their reflections in the glass cage Herzog reflects on how we see the Palaeolithic people; “It is hard to decide whether or not these creatures here are dividing into their own doppelgängers. And do they really meet, or is it just their own imaginary mirror reflection? Are we today possibly the crocodiles who look back into an abyss of time when we see the paintings of Chauvet Cave?”
Cave of forgotten dreams is a superb juxtaposition of the old and new, the Palaeolithic paintings and 3D cinema, while staying true to Herzog’s style and his ecstatic truth.
Herzog, W (dir). 2010. Cave of Forgotten Dreams. [Film]. Sundance Selects.