By January 2, 2012 7 Comments Read More →

Movie Review: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

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Well, it’s the beginning of a new year and it’s time to look back and reflect, so why not watch a documentary on cave paintings that are 35,000 years old? I am serious. Well, I watched Werner Herogz’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the discovery of the oldest and best preserved cave paintings: Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Caves and really enjoyed it.

I should mention that I studied Art History in college and remember starting off my first class with slides of cave paintings. It was fascinating to realize art started so many years ago even if the paintings were elementary in style and skill. What’s so captivating about the paintings that were discovered in 1994 in southern France (a year after I finished my schooling) is that they were much older than what were thought to be the oldest cave paintings that I studied – by thousands of years. (Although there has been some debate on the accuracy of the age of the paintings recently.) Plus, the ability of the artist(s) was so advanced.

Techniques we thought were invented thousands of years later were used in this cave. Herzog compares it to early cinema techniques when discussing how the cave paintings depicted movement of the subject (animals). However, it reminded me of Dynamism or Futurism. There was one painting: Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash by Giacoma Balla in 1912 that immediately reminded me of the “movements” of some of the animals represented in the cave paintings.

Since this particular cave ended up being shut off (sealed) from the world by some natural events about 20,000 years ago, the cave paintings are so well-preserved.  When you see this film you might think the paintings are fake. However, that is why the paintings are so pristine and full of unbelievable detail. Other cave paintings may have had this much detail but could have faded or eroded over time due to the exposure.

The cave paintings in Chauvet Caves should be on my bucket list, however, quickly after the discovery the French Government shut off access and sealed up the cave. Only a select group of scientists ranging from Art Historians, Paleontologists and Archaeologists are allowed access. There was even a Master Perfumer granted access in and around the cave in search of any minute detail that would give us any clues about the humans and animals that lived or occupied this cave.

Scientists have mapped out every square inch of this miracle discovery, and someday plans to open up an exact replica not too far off so people can see the beauty of it. Honestly, I might settle for the replica because the details that Herzog and his crew shot were breathtaking – simply breathtaking. Not only were the paintings stunningly spectacular with extreme detail that showed movement and with an advancement no one believed humans had with art 35,000 years ago, but the cave looks like it was dipped in layers of creamy crystals. Everywhere, from the stalactites to the stalagmites to naturally formed ribbons (above and below) of…well, I don’t know what but it all looked like sparkly cream and white candy.

I could try and describe every wondrous, beautiful natural forming artistic collage that the Chauvet Caves holds but you really should see it for yourselves. My words would simply not do it the justice it deserves.

Herzog narrated the film and due to the spacial restrictions you actually witness the film crew within this documentary but it didn’t take away from the importance of the subject matter one bit. There is very little room to walk as they have only a two-foot metal path that they could NOT veer from, but he took several moments in the documentary to explore the cave and set it to music. I believe he chose the perfect genre: Gregorian chants.

For me the juxtaposition of the art and what this film discussed was a kind of spiritual journey – or at least my kind of one. We all look back to our past to figure out who we are today. Watching this documentary shot me right back to college and a time when I was discovering who I was, so this was the perfect film for me to watch at the turn of a new year. Also, when I studied for any art history exam I always had Gregorian chants playing in the background. Honestly.

I hope you have a chance to see Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

My favorite: The 4 horses – you can see an example on the film poster.

My least favorite: That I won’t see this miracle discovery in person – ever.

Length: 90 minutes.

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About the Author:

Movie reviews that won’t spoil the story with the critique. Movies are my passion and I want to share my opinion on the movies I see to give you more insight on what to see next.

  • Katy, I watched this movie about three weeks ago, and then I watched it again. I know what you mean about a spiritual journey. Despite the enormous amount of time between when the paintings were done and when I saw them, I felt a connection. These were people with no written language, and yet they were able to communicate with us, after unimaginable eons, with their art and their imagination. I was very moved by it all, and I understand your sadness at not being able to see it in person. I found the ending, with its ominous overtones, to be disturbing, and I hope that the art, and the beautiful caves of Chauvet, will remain safe for further eons.

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  • Thanks Melody. I, too, didn’t quite understand the ending. However, I so enjoyed discovering this documentary and being able to see all the beauty of the Chauvet Cave. The paintings were truly remarkable.

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  • Okay, I moved this documentary to the first place on my ‘movies to see’ list!! I HAVE to see paintings 🙂 I am curious about the ending though. I am excited!!

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    • TJ -- you were the first person I thought of as I was watching this. I am not sure if you are like me, but I could stare for hours at slides of art or wander museums, alone, for an eternity and be absolutely content. These paintings are one that I would love to see in person as I am sure you would too. (Yeah, the ending was a bit odd but) Enjoy! 🙂

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      • Oh I love to stare at art. To observe the use of colors, line-art, the emotions that is captured within it. There is always a story hidden in it. And yes, I think I’m a bit like you! I love to wander around museums or libraries for hours. The paintings or books are like little portals to other worlds.You can either go back in history or traveling into the future. Perhaps fancy a trip to an imaginative world? It’s all possible and that’s why I love it 🙂

        I’ll let you know when I’ve seen it!

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  • I had the opportunity to see this last year, and I loved it! I know some people have taken issue with the absurdity of some of his commentary, but I just overlooked that. The paintings….just….wow. I can’t even describe how much I loved the artwork.

    I’m curious to know what rating you’d give it if you were to give it one. I’d say a 7 or 7.5.

    Great recommendation, Katy!

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    • Thanks Jen. So glad you saw this. Yes, the paintings are spectacular. And the narration especially at the end seemed to come out of left field. I, too, brushed it aside. Maybe it was a set up for his next documentary -- who knows?

      I usually don’t rate documentaries but I would say you were accurate with your rating. If there was more viewings of the paintings set to music and less narration I would bump it up though. I could watch something like that for hours. 🙂

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