Cave of Forgotten Dreams

27 03 2011

Just over a year ago, acclaimed film critic Mark Kermode spoke in screen one at the Watershed of his utter contempt for the recent 3d film revival. He also told an amusing anecdote about interviewing Werner Herzog, one of his cinematic heroes, in Los Angeles when the German director got shot in the stomach (watch the clip here).

It is therefore with some bitter irony that the same screen where Kermode waved toy smurfs around on a stick to illustrate the 3d effect of Avatar is currently showing a film by Herzog (right) shot in 3d, a once unthinkable occasion.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams sees Herzog and a small film crew granted access to the Chauvet Caves in the south of France where some of the world’s earliest cave paintings can be found.

The cave was only discovered in 1994 and almost immediately then shut again, with access only granted to a small team of scientists. The paintings are truly breathtaking, and Herzog’s slow pans across them, showing lions, horses and a variety of other animals, are mesmerising.

Herzog provides the commentary himself and we also see him talking to experts. “Was this the beginning of the human soul?” he asks. “Was this the beginning of humanness?”

This is a tract about philosophy as much as art, palaeontology and geology. Herzog occasionally pushes our patience with his elaborate explanations and analogies, showing a dancing Fred Astaire to illustrate the movements of the cave’s animals in flickering torchlight, and providing a baffling epilogue about albino alligators.

Where this film works best is by using 3d to stunning effect. This is the third-dimension in its most un-gimmicky best, adding depth and texture to the cave system and placing us closer than we would ever normally get to the beautiful creations of some of our earliest ancestors.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is showing now at the Watershed. Click here for more information.