From the black comic genius of My Son My Son, What Have Ye Done to the irreverent bizarreness of Bad Lieutenant Port Of Call New Orleans, Werner Herzog’s films are always one of a kind. But with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, he’s gone a step further, and ended up lost in a mountain.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a 3D documentary exploring mysterious drawings found deep in the Chauvet caves in the south of France. The drawings date back some 35, 000 years and are the oldest documented evidence of ‘art’. Many filmmakers and directors before Herzog tried and failed to gain access to the cave, and it’s clear throughout that the film lives out his personal dream of discovery. Part of the team entering the mountain, 68-year-old Herzog is on screen and narrates the film himself. As the crew of half a dozen or so take their first steps in, with just an hour on the clock, everyone wants to get on, but Herzog makes them all stop, and us stop, to appreciate the silence, “We’re going to listen to the silence of the caves and perhaps we can hear our own hearts beat”.
Aside from the long hypnotic scans around the cave, Herzog provides a lot of background information to emphasise the magnitude and significance of the drawings – man’s first imprint on nature. As the film makes plain in the interviews he conducts, archeologists are quite boring, but Herzog seems to think they’re really interesting, and it is his fascination and quirky sense of humour that turns this film from a National Geographic dull fest into a mind-boggling, eye-bending escape into a time so far away you can’t even imagine it. In one instance, an old Frenchman demonstrates how to spear a horse with an ancient weapon, but instead of actually spearing a horse, he just throws the spear into an open field, which is unintentionally quite funny. Another Frenchman Herzog talks to spends his days sniffing the outside of the cave, which is very funny. Eccentric enough to tickle your sides and captivating enough to sit through, it’s a quiet masterpiece.