Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
Directed and written by Werner Herzog
Produced by Erik Nelson, Adrienne Ciuffo, Judith Thurman, Phil Fairclough, Amy Briamonte, Andrea Anderson, Alain Zenou, Nicolas Zunino, Dave Harding, Julian P. Hobbs, David McKillop, Molly Thompson, Mark Allan
Starring Werner Herzog, Jean Clottes, Julien Monney, Jean-Michel Geneste, Michel Philippe, Gilles Tosello, Carole Fritz, Dominique Baffier, Valerie Feruglio, Nicholas Conard, Maria Malina
“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.”
–Henry Ward Beecher
Thirty millennia after an incidental gallery of petrographs vividly describing mammoths, bears, horses, aurochs, lions, panthers, bison, rhinoceroses, hyenas and handprints were painted over the span of five on the irregular walls of a nearly hermetic cave in southern France, it was discovered by a trio of speleologists; a mere fifteen years succeeding that landmark find, central Europe’s weariless moviemaker and his ternary skeleton crew entered the Chauvet Cave to document its extraordinary paleo-artistic legacy. These constrictive surroundings are adorned as much with magnificent stalactites and stalagmites as their pictorial hundreds, and the cave’s value as a repository of many earliest extant effigies in human history, and an index of its age’s zoology and the Cro-Magnon’s culture has earned it a rare veneration and security. GoPro cameras and drones are efficiently utilized by Herzog to shoot, respectively, the cave’s ambulatory interior and the nearby Pont d’Arc, a natural bridge arching Ardèche River, efficiently eliciting an impression of its stone-age milieu. Expounding the surprising sophistication of its troglodytic artists, who portrayed their subjects with a resonant depth, motion and power, archaeologists Geneste, Monney, Tosello, Fritz, Feruglio, Conard and Malina, paleontologist Philippe, and the cave’s past chief of research (Clottes) and curator (Baffier) ably inform and contextualize by exposition and discourse with the director. Unfortunately, much of their metaphysical speculation and most of Herzog’s usual existential reflections are as extraneous, even risible as Ernst Reijseger’s fine yet overworked choral and chamber score, especially when it stridently sounds during what should’ve been a silent cesura after Werner’s narration piques a fascination for the cave’s seemingly enigmatic quiet. Commentary of this otherwise successful documentary too often presumes an improbable profundity in the conception of these graphic yet essentially observational images. As their simulacra evince, these were men who lived by action and instinct, not contemplation.