NZFF: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

A few years ago, in a beautiful French valley, some explorers found a cave. They were searching for undiscovered caves by checking for changes in air pressure, wind drafts, big gaping holes – that sort of thing. And they stumbled upon one of the most fascinating discoveries of recent times. A cave, which had been isolated for tens of thousands of years, and contained the most stunning and well preserved cave paintings ever found.

This is a fascinating subject for a documentary and Werner Herzog was given exclusive and unprecedented access to the now-sealed off cave. And in my opinion, he then proceeded to make the cave and the people involved look ridiculous.

We saw this film in 3D, which I would not recommend. Although some of it may have been shot in 3D, much of the film was not. And it has been poorly post-converted. Which means you get blurry lines around people, and which for some will cause headaches. It’s distracting.
As is Werner Herzog’s commentary. A dull monotonous German accent tunes out anything interesting he has to say. Which is not much in the first place. He makes assumptions and ponders motives, giving the audience little room to make their own conclusions or use their own imaginations. He tells you what to think. Without any factual basis.

He is disrespectful to his interview subjects. He leaves interviews going just a little too long, so you get awkward pauses as someone’s thought trails off, making them look slightly senile or mad. He asks them to dress up or demonstrate weapons but then plays it out of context, so the audience is wondering what is wrong with this person, before he introduces them, or lets them explain why they are doing whatever it is they do.

The score was heavy and felt discordant to me. It didn’t complement the cave paintings, it distracted from them. The actual footage of the paintings was stunning though, and the sequences where these were shown were left long and uncut, so you could fully appreciate their beauty.

Finally Herzog adds a postscript. A completely unrelated note about a nuclear power plant in the region and some albino crocodiles. He ponders “Are we the crocodiles looking back on these paintings” – or something to that effect. So instead of leaving you gazing at these stunning charcoal sketches created by our ancestors and preserved over millennia… he leaves you with some crocodiles. Seriously, WTF?

I hope that another filmmaker one day has the opportunity to use this footage and creates the respectful and amazing documentary that the subject and those studying it deserve.


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