Cave of Forgotten Dreams (3D)
|May 3, 2011||Posted by Liam Morgan under culture, entertainment, reviews|
The bracketed “3D” stamp following a movie’s title nowadays might as well be a label saying “approach with trepidation” or “beware: cheap gimmick-based content within”. Until now that is. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (in glorious, revolutionary, innovative 3D) is a work of art, and provides ample reason for employing the use of a previously superfluous extra dimension.
Werner Herzog’s latest brainchild fuses fascinating documentary and genuine human-interest stories to create a film as rare as the historical site it is based on. It is the Caves of Chavuet in which Herzog chooses to place his camera for his latest piece, and that in itself is no easy feat. The 40,000 year-old caves are host to the first examples of human art ever discovered, and to be granted access to them is an honour bestowed on a precious few in today’s society. Indeed, Herzog’s intention is to make their hidden wonders available to the rest of the human race; therein lies the justification for both the film as a project and its use of 3D cameras. With Herzog’s use of 3D, we, the audience, get the unprecedented experience of feeling like we have actually visited the cave. Perhaps Herzog himself said it best when he observed in a recent interview: “Once they have seen it, people don’t talk about the movie as a movie. They talk about the cave and what it was like to stand inside it.” Such is the power of Chavuet and, lest we forget, Herzog’s filmmaking technique.
There is something universal and simultaneously personal about the art within the caves. To see drawings on cave walls that were created some 30,000 years ago (or more in some cases) of beautifully realised creatures – be it the famous Wall of Horses or a pair of fighting buffalo – is to witness something truly numinous and unifying at once. A phenomenally strong feeling, more like an uncovered instinct, of identity and empathy within the human race is one way to describe it. And yet there is something wonderfully indescribable about the feelings they arouse, some irrefutable truth about what it means to be human hidden within their many emotional layers. It is something that can only be experienced, and that is why Cave of Forgotten Dreams is such an important film.
One of the many facets of the film’s beauty lies in its open ended nature and say-more-by-saying-nothing approach. While Herzog does provide us with in depth interviews and expert opinion, he also places several sections, of 10 minutes or so each, in which he lets the camera pan across the cave walls, with only some eerie human voices singing along to a primitive orchestral track as its backing. The juxtaposition of orchestral music (which acclaimed American writer Roger Ebert beautifully labelled “a pinnacle of civilisation” in a recent blog post) and ancient artwork represents the huge gap between us and its creators: but the frightening, enlightening thing is that, of course, we share common ancestry in its purest form. These transcendent interludes allow the audience’s minds to wander and contemplate these fascinating images. Perhaps this is what makes the film truly personal.
Within these sections I pondered the philosophical implications of the artworks – where art’s essence lies or the altruistic nature of the human race – as that is what fascinates me most about them. For me, then, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a very philosophical picture, but for others it will be a decidedly humanist one. Or one concerned principally with artistic analysis. Or an exploration of natural history. Or a case study of a forgotten culture. Or perhaps it is all of these things and more; a truly un-definable film in terms of genre and audience impact.
Among Herzog’s artistic flourishes lies his emphasis on shadows, the ones that are cast upon the walls as the sun rises and falls and perhaps the ‘shadows’ of the lives of the people that created the paintings: a constant visualisation of the ephemeral nature of human existence. The film is filled with breathtaking moments. These are usually achieved by experts making a truly awe-inspiring statement, which they have a habit of dropping into the interview as if they were commonplace. One woman, the curator of the caves, informs us of how they can track one prehistoric man’s path through the cave via his artwork. But how do we know it is the same person? “He had a distinctive little finger,” she explains, “previously broken that is no longer set straight.” That these archaeologists can track one 30,000 year old individual’s path across the cave by his bent little finger is just one of many mind-bending moments.
Rarely has a film raised and illuminated such important issues regarding the social evolution of the human race. For that reason, it is a must see film for any fan of film or art alike, and yet its reach extends even those expansive audiences, such is the universal qualities that it heralds. As for the caves, they certainly are the birthplace of art, or as Herzog hyperbolically postulates: “the birthplace of the human soul.” But he may well have a point.