Cave Of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog

Canada, USA, France, Germany, UK, 2010.

Werner Herzog takes us deep behind the frontier of an extraordinary place. Having gained unprecedented access through the tightest of restrictions and overcome considerable technical challenges, he has captured on film, with specially designed 3D cameras, the interior of the Chauvet Cave in southern France. This is where the world’s oldest cave paintings – hundreds in number – were discovered in 1994. He reveals to us a breathtaking subterranean world and leads us to the 32,000-year-old artworks. We come face to face with pristine and astonishingly realistic drawings of horses, cattle and lions, which for the briefest second come alive in the torchlight. 

Utopia is not a place, and no place is utopic. But there is a place, the unknown place, that is sealed as a promise for all time. As if in a dream, we are called by a distant memory to begin our journey to find this place. In Werner Herzog’s latest documentary on the Chauvet Cave, we are almost bound to say that to the most distant times, all paths come together in a disappearing optical illusion. By isolating a segmentary fragment within a large canvas, another remarkable world appears. Frame by frame the eye looks for the impossible within another world. The utopia of our optical perception plays an unusual role in the Western and Eastern conception of the image. The oldest images of our culture produce not only an image but something so alien that it reveals something about what it means to be human.

The Chauvet Cave was discovered in 1994 by the French scientist Jean-Marie Chauvet. Shooting inside the cave was no easy task, and Herzog and his crew had to build a camera for the occasion. Herzog received permission to do this delicate shoot because he was Herzog. Only he could make this film. Together with his cameraman, he began his optical voyage to utopia in the South of France in an area mostly known for it’s limestone-sediment caves. It is here that man had created, perhaps for more than thirty thousand years, remarkable drawings of animals, hunting, and symbols.

Confronting these images is more than a historic event; according to Herzog they teach us something about the birth of our soul. To him the images are an unwritten thought, and what modern man needs are images that surpass those of our present clichés and stereotypes; images that guard the unspoiled, the ecstatic, a new geometric opening, a creation in chaos, a recapturing of something lost. The camera, together with Herzog’s passionate English voice with its pronounced and deliberate German accent guides us through antiquity into the heart of the cave. After what  looks like an ordinary stalactite cave, Herzog soon enough  directs our attention to paintings of remarkable animals whose figures follow the rhythm of the walls inside the cave. This is, as Herzog tells us, the birth of the cinematic movement.

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