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Werner Herzog in 3D: Cave of Forgotten Dreams at SFIFF54

I have been delaying it long enough, it's time to write about experiencing Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams Monday night. Not that I have much to say besides SEE IT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Let the film envelop you and enjoy the ride.

I won't be a fool and spoil for you or try describe the near out of body experience in too many words. Here are just a few thoughts:

As she introduced the film festival programmer Rachel Rosen said, "This film reminds us how extraordinarily wonderful and mysterious of a world it is." The crowd clapped when "Werner Herzog" came up on the screen. These viewers, who got their tickets far in advance and waited in a long line are no strangers to the wonder of Herzog.

A note on 3D: I realized after watching and being so moved by the sensual nature of the 3D camera that I have never seen a 3D live action film before. I don't consider Avatar live action because it is told through so many special effects, same with Tron, and besides that all I have seen in 3D is Alice in Wonderland (underwhelming, not filmed in 3D but rather a 2D-3D conversion), Toy Story 3 (Yay of course), and Coraline (Yay of course) but Herzog's was the first live action without major special effects. Also it is the very first documentary filmed in 3D, and Herzog [who I consider of the next level of human development] must be the first to have used the 3D camera as such a natural part of his filmmaking. The well written SFIFF54 program comments on the subject best. "Who better to adopt the form than Werner Herzog, our veteran guide to landscapes and mindscapes dislocative yet immersive? Eternally attracted to the spectacular, mystic and strange, he’s forever plunging head-first into exotica his bemused point-of-view renders gently inviting. There’s scarcely a Herzog feature...whose outré content, personalities and imagery wouldn’t make perfect sense in the stereoscopic form."

Since the caves that Werner and the 3D camera show us in this story were discovered in 1994 after being covered by limestone in a massive landslide, we witness the 32,000 year-old paintings inside as "a frozen flesh of a moment in time...they created the perfect time capsule." Adding to the mystery, the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc caverns are now locked by a steel door. No visitors allowed besides the occasional researcher granted access by the French Ministry of Culture.

A whole supporting cast and crew of interesting academics and scientists play supporting roles here, including a "Master Perfumer" and an "Experimental Archeologist." Many of them best explain the experience of being in the caves on more spiritual/emotional terms than logical, and that's really what this film is about. One man speaks to the experience of being in the caves as emotional shock. After coming out he needed days and weeks to relax and absorb the experience. "I am a scientist but I am human too," he says when describing coming out with a "powerful feeling of understanding things." Another expert ties the experience of the cave paintings to his opinion that human described as homosapien is wrong and that the descriptive word should be homospiritual instead.

And if we are just speaking logically, what is it about being in the caves, among the paintings? Well, has anything so old, in such fine, fresh form has ever been experienced. No. Part of the powerful feeling must also come from the fact that very few people have witnessed them. And the drawings represent the "invention of the figuration of things," from a previously oral culture.

Alas I fear I've said too much.
Heavier applause this time at the end: "Written, narrated, and directed by Werner Herzog." Im not sure I have ever felt such depth of feeling at the sight of a byline before.

Elisabeth Bartlett
Dailies from San Francisco

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