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Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams'

May 19, 2011 |  6:00 am

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Werner Herzog simply can’t resist the call of the wild. He is cinema’s modern-day Thoreau -- part philosopher, part poet and always a keen observer. He’s traveled into the recesses of a cloistered world for his latest documentary, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” and given us a meditation on early man as well as the portal through which we can experience the haunting beauty of 32,000-year-old cave paintings.

Though so rare and so fragile is the site that entry is mostly restricted to a handful of scientists, it is still not surprising that the French decided to allow him to film the Chauvet Cave in the Ardeche region. Herzog has long proven that where the natural world is concerned, he is almost reverential in his approach to it.

“Cave,” with its wall of stampeding horses, rhino fights and panther confrontations, takes you back to a time when man’s long-term survival may have been in question, but the artistic passions, the remarkable power of observation, the desire to leave a mark on this world coursed through prehistoric veins to awe-inspiring effect.

The sophistication of the work, the attention to texture and the way in which movement is evoked are where Herzog trains his lens. Comments are minimal, as he knows better than to upstage nature’s beauty. That sense of place against the larger canvas helped earn him an Oscar nomination for his 2007 documentary of Antarctica in “Encounters at the End of the World.” His "Grizzly Man," in 2005, tracing the killing of Timothy Treadwell by the Alaskan bears he studied and loved, remains an incredible testament to the wonders and dangers the wild holds.

It is no small thing, this bringing of the rare to us with a naturalist's love for all things living, past and present. He ensures with “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” that those herds of wild horses racing across cavernous walls will be remembered. He's done all the hard work; you only have to make time.

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-- Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Filmmaker Werner Herzog and his crew inside the Chauvet Cave in the Ardeche region of France, where 32,000 paintings were discovered in 1994. Credit: Marc Valesella / Associated Press


 
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A beautiful piece, Ms. Sharkey. Herzog has brought a cinematic delicacy to the table, and your enticement to sample it could not be more alluring. Thank you.

J Denton


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