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Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

7.4
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Werner Herzog gains exclusive access to film inside the Chauvet caves of Southern France and captures the oldest known pictorial creations of humanity.

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Title: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

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Jean Clottes ...
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Julien Monney ...
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Jean-Michel Geneste ...
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Michel Philippe ...
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Gilles Tosello ...
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Carole Fritz ...
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Dominique Baffier ...
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Valerie Feruglio ...
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Nicholas Conard ...
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Wulf Hein ...
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Storyline

In 1994, a group of scientists discovered a cave in Southern France perfectly preserved for over 20,000 years and containing the earliest known human paintings. Knowing the cultural significance that the Chauvet Cave holds, the French government immediately cut-off all access to it, save a few archaeologists and paleontologists. But documentary filmmaker, Werner Herzog, has been given limited access, and now we get to go inside examining beautiful artwork created by our ancient ancestors around 32,000 years ago. He asks questions to various historians and scientists about what these humans would have been like and trying to build a bridge from the past to the present. Written by napierslogs

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Release Date:

31 August 2011 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Cave of Forgotten Dreams  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$139,101 (USA) (29 April 2011)

Gross:

$5,234,785 (USA) (19 August 2011)
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Werner Herzog: Crocodiles have been introduced into this brooding jungle and warmed by the water to cool the reactor, man do they thrive. There are already hundreds of them. Not surprisingly, mutant albinos swim and breed in these waters. A thought is born of this surreal environment. Not long ago, just a few thousand years back, there were glaciers here 9,000 feet thick. And now a new climate is steaming and spreading. Fairly soon, these albinos might reach Chauvet caves. Looking at the paintings, what will ...
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Herzog: the Indiana Jones of Documentarians
1 June 2011 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

No one shoots 32,000 year-old cave paintings like Werner Herzog. First off, they're not allowed. The storied German filmmaker was recently granted unprecedented access to Chauvet caves in south France, which house the earliest known human paintings. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the latest in his library of offbeat and mostly fascinating documentaries. Of course, Herzog's unique perspective is as much a draw as the subject matter itself — the man could make a movie about dirt and I'd be the first in line.

Fortunately, he's dealing with no such handicap here. The paintings that line Chauvet are beautiful, perfectly preserved, and enigmatic. But it's their technique that's most impressive. The conception that early man doodled only rudimentary stick figures and geometric animals is a fallacy, as the craft on display in Cave of Forgotten Dreams is staggering. So much so that early analysis doubted the authenticity of the drawings. Sealed beneath a thick layer of calcite, however, carbon dating proved them genuine.

In truth, there are no depictions of man on the walls of Chauvet. Instead, most panels appear an altar to the animal kingdom, with awesome recreations of bison, horses, lions, and now extinct wooly rhinos. Painted from memory in a dark recess of the cave, the images could only be seen by firelight. Art historians speculate that in those flickering flames, the drawings might have appeared to take life, which Herzog equates to a sort of "proto-cinema." Also of special interest to the director is a bison with a woman's body painted onto the curvature of a stalactite.

Complete with bizarre metaphors, inner musings, and tangential conversation, there can be no mistaking the author of Cave of Forgotten Dreams. At times, the filmmaker even seems aware that he's being Werner Herzog. Not every one of his digressions proves equally illuminating, but you can't really complain about Herzog being Herzog in a Herzog documentary.

Funded in part by the History Channel, his input is infinitely more valuable considering the sterile TV special this might have been. His knack for compelling autobiography proves one of the most intriguing aspects of the film, and rather than work around his crew and equipment, Herzog mines drama from their creative difficulties. The team was permitted inside for just a few brief hours per day, and restricted to two foot wide metal walkways once there. The many precautions and restrictions protect the integrity of the cave floor, and the still fresh footprints and animal remains that have survived there for so long.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams isn't Herzog's best work by any stretch of the imagination, but at almost 70, it's amazing he's still up for the Indiana Jones routine. From the Peruvian rainforest in his youth to Antarctica and now some light spelunking, Herzog is one of the most traveled filmmakers alive. That he can still churn out progressive, stimulating entertainment is a rarity among artists his age.

And as obtuse as it may be, Herzog's ideology is invaluable. Through his eyes, Chauvet cave is a wonder to behold; he captures the transcendent beauty of the paintings and ruminates on the lives of their anonymous creators. Though sometimes he overstates his own eccentricity, the through line of art as an essential human quality circumvents his digressions. Our ability to appreciate the creative output of a society millennia removed from our own is a powerful concept. Here's hoping folks from the year 34,000 appreciate Herzog as much as we do.


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