Cave of Forgotten Dreams offers you a front row seat to explore the otherwise inaccessible paintings of the Chauvet cave in southern France. Directed and narrated by Werner Herzog and shot in 3-D this documentary is stunning and gives us a privileged glimpse at remarkable paintings from 30,000 to 35,000 years ago.
The Chauvet cave was discovered in 1994 by three professionals, Christean Hillaire, Éliette Brunel, and Jean-Marie Chauvet for whom the cave is named. Chauvet, a park ranger working for the Minister of Culture had served as a custodian at other prehistoric sites and knew to take immediate steps to protect the cave’s interior which would uncover clues to its history. For instance, the cave floor reveals evidence of its last human visitor, a child, who left foot prints some 27,000 years ago. It is believed that shortly after this visit a landslide closed the cave opening for the next 25,000 years.
Though the cave is not open to the public, Werner Herzog was given special permission by the French Minister of Culture to film inside following their strict guidelines which limited him to a crew of three who were only allowed to film for a total of six four hour days. The crew could use only battery-powered equipment that they themselves could carry and had to use special lights that gave off a limited amount of heat. In addition, they were required to stay on a two-foot wide walkway and weren’t allowed to touch the cave walls or floor. With the difficult shooting conditions it’s amazing that the results are so stunning.
Herzog had been a vocal critic of 3-D but decided after his first visit to the cave that there was no other way to shoot this film. The 3-D renders the paintings as the artists intended using the contours and bulges of the walls to bring the subject to life. All that’s missing is the flicker of candlelight to bring movement to these magnificent paintings. Picasso is quoted as saying, “we have learned nothing in 12,000 years” upon his exit from the cave at Lascaux. Unfathomably the paintings at Chauvet were painted 17,000 years prior to those at Lascaux. One can’t help but wonder what Picasso’s impression of the Chauvet paintings would have been.
Those who have traveled or plan to join ExperiencePlus! on the Cycling the Dordogne Plus! the Vineyards of Bordeaux tour will be especially interested in this film as we visit the paintings at Font de Gaume which feature over 200 polychrome paintings from 17,000BC the most famous being a frieze of five bison.
You can stream Cave of Forgotten Dreams from Netflix in 2-D for now — 3-D will be available in the coming months and though I am not a fan of Herzog’s narration, the film is gorgeous and shouldn’t be missed.