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Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams - 3D Directed by: Werner Herzog Cast: Werner Herzog, Dominique Baffier, Wulf Hein Running Time: 1 hr 30 min Rating: Unrated Release Date: May 6, 2011

PLOT: Herzog brings a 3D camera into the Chauvet cave to look at the oldest known human paintings. The filmmaker also speaks with archaeologists to ask what these paintings tell us about our ancestors.

WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of Herzog's documentaries such as Grizzly Man and Little Dieter Wants To Fly as well as anyone who enjoys beauty.

EXPECTATIONS: Ever since the film started showing at film festivals it's gotten great reviews. But I really wasn't sure what to make of a 3D movie about cave paintings.


ACTORS: Werner Herzog as himself: Though he claims to be in the film due to the constraints placed on the film crew, Herzog is always a feature in his documentaries. Both as narrator and sometimes, as character. He plays the role of chief interlocuter, standing in for the audience as he asks why these paintings are important and what they say about the people who made them. It's effective, I did feel that I cared more about the art at the end of the film than I did at the beginning. Score: 7

Dominique Baffier as herself: Archaeologist Baffier gives context to the paintings she has spent so much of her life studying. Through her I began to know the people who made this art. There are a series of handprints made by a single man, she knows this because of a crooked pinkie. Somehow, knowing that made a connection between now and this man 30,000 years ago. Score: 7

Wulf Hein as himself: This guy is exactly what you'd expect to find in a Herzog film.  Billed as an "Experimental Archaeologist", he's dressed in reindeer skins and plays a primitive flute made from animal bone. There's also a "Master Perfumer" who's trying to find caves by sense of smell. Herzog really knows the loveliest people. Score: 9

TALKING: Though the subject manner seems like something you'd see on the History Channel (and in fact they released the film) the narration is very different. Rather than being strictly factual, Herzog focuses on the people behind the paintings. His dialogue is more like prose. The archaeologists also sound more poetic than I would expect. I chalk it up to them being French. I mentioned this before, but Baffier really seems to know the people she studies. Through their art, she tries to get a small sense of them.

Score: 8

SIGHTS: I was skeptical of a 3D documentary. I was wrong to be. Seeing these paintings in 3 dimensions adds so much depth and beauty to the work. Chauvet is closed to the public so this is your only opportunity to see the earliest works of human art. Cave walls aren't flat, they ripple and bow. Seeing these paintings is different than a typical 3D film, nothing jumps out at you. Very little besides the camera actually moves. But the effect is really unique. Score: 9

SOUNDS: Most of the sound comes from the within the film. There's choral music during some of the cave sequences. I was so taken with the images that I almost didn't notice. It comes in gently and just adds to the sense of looking at something almost holy. It feels reverent. Score: 8


BEST SCENE: The sequences that show the cave paintings. That's what the movie's all about. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the shot with the stick camera that shows the full woman/bull painting.

ENDING: This film is about a journey, but I will say that by the end, I had a new understanding of these works.

QUESTIONS: Are there any more great 3D documentary ideas? What will Herzog do next?

REWATCHABILITY: Absolutely, I'd definitely see it in 3D again. I'm sure it will still be a good film in 2D, but you really should go and see this in a theater.


Usually it's pretty easy to explain why I like a film and know that a reader will be able to make their own decision based on what I say. For example, if a story is trite, if a performance is good or bad. But this film is almost impossible to explain in words. Because it isn't the interviews or narration, the story is incidental to how amazing the cave paintings look. I've seen them before, in books or online, but this is completely different. I had to fight the urge to hold up a hand and try to touch the pictures. It looks so real, right in front of you and it's so amazing. To think that primitive people could create these pictures with stick or their fingertips and that it can last for 30,000 years is profound. Don't see this film because I tell you to, see it for yourself.


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