3.5 Stars out of 4
It seems every documentary by Werner Herzog is a new experience, and his Cave of Forgotten Dreams is no exception. And it’s shot in 3D!
But that’s not the selling point to Cave of Forgotten Dreams, in fact there is nothing here that acts as a commercial investment. Knowing Herzog, he’s an explorer who uses cinema to reinvent the wheel of the art’s possibilities and, therefore, 3D is applied how a Renaissance painter used chiaroscuro. He wants to invade the film’s space not ours, and draw his world with protrusion as if we could reach out and touch it.
Most importantly, Herzog hasn’t exploited 3D as the documentary’s focal point but has left much of the wonder and awe to our imagination, the most important element of a film goer’s experience. So much is about speculation and the fascination of the unknown and unheard, and the 3D is just bringing those enigmas above the surface. The result? A documentary so involved with itself that its quiet and gradual pacing is part of the effect.
The making of Cave of Forgotten Dreams is worth a review right there, but I’ll leave that to your disclosure. What must be said is that Herzog has forayed into territory that is – perhaps literally – out of time and space. He ventures into the Chauvet Caves of southern France. It’s been sealed for 20,000 years and leave it to Herzog to persuade the French minister of culture to allow him and his crew in the cave.
This is the director of such masterpieces like Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God, who – during those productions – missed a plane that ended up exploding over the Amazon (Aguirre) and was offered by an Indian to kill his star actor but he denied saying he had him for more shoots (Fitzcarraldo). Herzog is also the founder of the Rogue Film School, a place he claims is only suitable for “those who have travelled on foot, who have worked as bouncers in sex clubs, or as wardens in lunatic asylums.” He also forbids yoga. You see what I’m getting at?
He is a filmmaker like no other and, these days, that’s more than a simple compliment. Herzog’s a visionary and Cave of Forgotten Dreams requires one. Indeed the documentary is owned by the History Channel but do not be discouraged. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is not about facts but speculation. Not about the figure but its shadow. In the Chauvet Caves he cultivates a trove of prehistoric artwork that Herzog shrewdly calls “proto-cinema.”
Yes, Cave of Forgotten Dreams takes you to a place you have never been, seriously. Herzog was only allowed himself and three other crew members into the cave (one being cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger), and they found their space and time limited. The caves were narrow, interrupted by jutting stalagmites and fragile walls. Some are decorated with bulls, deers, bisons and more obscure shapes, some implying sexuality or evoking movement.
We meet a few archeologists, some so fascinated by the paintings but not knowing exactly with what. Herzog doesn’t want to teach, but encourage our thoughts. He’s as lost as we are here, entering a world that is untouched, unknown, and pure. Herzog loves to suggest we are strangers in a stranger place, and the Caves – despite our curiosities – will remain enigmatic, indiscernible, but sublime throughout the ages. The 3D then allows us to feel what he feels and touch what he touches. Herzog proves that 3D can work in the hands of an ambitious artist.
So much enters our mind but little is answered and that is the intrigue of Cave of Forgotten Dreams. This is a director who has made 10 feature documentaries, 21 short documentaries, and 18 feature films, and his fascination with the other things of the world is a fire still burning. His passion becomes our passion, and the dry humour is just joy arising from his all-out awe.
Herzog claims Cave of Forgotten Dreams spurs from his grandfather who was fascinated with exploration. Yes, Herzog has explored but he has inspired the audience to experience this with him. As most of Herzog’s films, you never feel Cave of Forgotten Dream has left you distant or uninvolved; it’s a film that uses the 3D to enhance an experience, creating a dream very real but undefined. The only distance one could feel is wonder, infused by Herzog’s deep and calming mysteries.
With the classical music Cave of Forgotten Dreams is like wandering in a cathedral that has never been endured. Everything exists in its untouched beauty, remaining a spectacle not a source of information. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is for dreamers, and if that’s not you this film could change that.
I believe 3D could be about improving a look and texture, but Herzog is one of the first directors to effectively enable that purpose (Herzog loathes Avatar, I’m sorry). He’s not bound by the motive of the dollar. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is about manifesting a new world, bringing sounds and fury to the silent and inscrutable, and displaying 3D majestically to the naked eye. It proves in what may soon be the downfall of the gimmick, there may be light at the end of its tunnel. Indeed there’s always hope when one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers, that is Herzog, said he not only wanted to make Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D, he had to.
Note: The documentary’s final moments with the alligators are for the Herzog freaks to admire and for others to scoff. Herzog, I think, would want it that way.
To read my review of his last documentary “Encounters At the End of the World” visit HERE.