Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) by Werner Herzog

Jean-Marie Chauvet, panel of lions. © DRAC
Jean-Marie Chauvet, panel of lions. © DRAC
Fragility, a sense of the sacred, the long passage of time, and that elusive of feelings—awe—permeate this elegant and emotional film about the Chauvet Caves of Pont-d’Arc.

Because of the caves’ fragility, Herzog and his crew were given limited and brief access to the caves – an irony considering that the perfectly-preserved caves have been untouched for 30,000 years. What’s another few months of filming? But the discovery of the caves, which is one of the most astounding and important paleolithic discoveries in the history of history-recording mankind, prompts strict and meticulous conservation. The film, therefore, focuses on giving us a glimpse of the astonishing caves, interviews with the discovery and research teams, and the beautiful geographic and archaeological context of this part of South of France in which the caves were discovered.

That the crew had such limited footage and time is to the film’s advantage. The film became a meditation on the redemptive and humbling power of beauty, nature, and of nature’s beauty, and the ways in which they elicit such emotion. This film also demonstrates the strangeness of artistic/geological time, which both distances us and makes us feel close to our paleolithic ancestors in a way which is almost indescribable. We can focus, willingly, on the wonder, delicacy, and emotion of the place and share in the feeling of discovery of the researchers and scientists. Further, we are strongly reminded of that crazy human urge to tell stories and to make art, whether or not we have a notion of it as such. While we may be humbled by time, and stronger forces of nature, the urge to describe, to share, and to elevate distinguishes us.

With a gorgeous score by cellist and composer Ernst Reijseger.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams, dir. Werner Herzog, 2010. 90 min. Creative Differences, et al. In English and French.