'Cave' doc a trip to the past

Director: Wernor Herzog

Director: Wernor Herzog

Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:51 PM ET

The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams is a 3D excursion into France's Chauvet caves to look at 32,000-year-old paintings -- the oldest human art projects on record.

Your tour guide for this journey to look at ancient cave pictures is Werner Herzog, the vaguely eccentric filmmaker whose enthusiasm illuminates the picture from start to finish. A 3D history lesson taught by a wild-eyed German philosopher/filmmaker may not sound like everyone's cup of tea, but The Cave OF Forgotten Dreams is a genuinely transporting celebration of human creativity.

What you see in the film is awe-inspiring. Three cave-seekers found the spot in 1994, uncovering what Herzog terms, "One of the greatest discoveries in the history of human culture."

The caves were sealed by a rock slide thousands of years ago, leaving the detailed drawings of prehistoric animals on the walls as fresh as if they were drawn last week. Various archeologists, art historians, paleontologists and other scientists have toured these caves, but they are off limits for everybody else and are guarded accordingly. Herzog's rare permission to shoot inside came with complicated instructions as to what could and could not be done, and by the time the film crew climbs down to the cave floor, a viewer is right into the Indiana Jones spirit of it all.

Herzog doesn't merely let the camera show the pictures. His judicious choice of 3D (a technology he hitherto dismissed) reveals how early humans used the curves and depressions in the cave walls to give their drawings perspective and movement. The drawings, particularly of horses and deer, are astonishing in their detail and clarity.

And Herzog is not content with the visual. He guides a viewer toward experiencing the drawings with all the senses, stopping to illustrate the silence of the cave, or to suggest how the drawings reveal the physical strength of the animals or the sound of their hooves. A perfumer in the caves discusses how he uses his sense of smell to discern various things about prehistoric living, or, "the presence of their lives," as he put it.

The film includes interviews with several scientists involved in exploring and mapping the caves, and more than one talks about a sort of spiritual connection to the natural world that modern man seems to have lost.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams moves out of the physical realm into a meditation about the various connections between past and present. This is a picture populated by sometimes eccentric scientists and a filmmaker as out-there as Herzog, so no surprise that it's a dreamy film with mesmerizing sequences.

The drawings of woolly mammoths, bison, mane-less cave lions, odd rhinos and other long-gone wildlife offer an astonishing look at the lives of those who were here before us. Once the camera moves outside the caves to the surrounding limestone cliffs and the sweeping formation of Pont D'Arc, it's easy to see how some would theorize the caves were part of a sacred place.

The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams is partly in German and French, with English subtitles.

In Toronto, the film is playing at Bell Lightbox.

This film is rated G


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