Dancing with One’s Own Shadow

A precious archaeological find has been discovered in a cave complex in the south of France and has been protected from the sight of curious tourists by the global scientific community. However, renowned German director Werner Herzog gained a permit to shoot on this mysterious place, descending to the depths of the subterranean labyrinth to give evidence of our common past. The magical documentary The Cave of Forgotten Dreams opens the new film year at the Dafilms portal on January 2.
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The Cave of Forgotten Dreams / The archaeological find in the Chauvet Cave is unique for its age among other things. Discovered accidentally by a three-member speleological expedition in 1994, it represents the oldest monument of its kind in the world. Having served as a cult place, perhaps a temple; if there was such a word in the culture of our ancestors at all; the rock complex speaks to us in a language of thirty thousand years ago. It is a language of art we can hardly understand; however, we are surprised to find out how deeply and substantially we are touched by it. “As I entered the cave for the first time, I would have incredibly vivid dreams about lions every night. Five days later, I had to interrupt my research and take a little break. It was quite an emotional shock,” says a young French archaeologist about the astonishing impression the cave made on him. Facing the images of thousands of years ago, the observers of today seem to experience the suppressed collective unconsciousness formed in the period of dozens of thousands of years ago, only hastily covered by the paint of civilization. No one is allowed to touch the paintings so that the bacteriological conditions of the space are preserved. That is rather symbolical. Though the scientists may photograph, measure, scan and classify the subterranean treasures (including paintings as well as palm imprints, foot traces and bones of ancient animals), they cannot reach their real secret. The abyss of time which divides us from the mammoth hunters is too deep, defying rational grasp. What we consider to be an altar today might be simply a place to lay down a bone of the prey; and vice versa. Herzog’s film reflects on the fact that rather than through laser cameras, the sense of the wall paintings must be seen in the way their creators saw them; in the light of torches enlivening the stone walls by a shadow play.
“When lighting up a flickering flame, it is easy to imagine the way people would dance with their own shadows. The walls were the first images. White walls and black shadows,” says one of the film protagonists, renowned archaeologist Jean-Michel Geneste. The filmmakers tried to mediate the impressive images of the ancient art to the spectators; it was also for this reason that the director decided for the 3D technology which promised to add dynamics to the flat film image; however, as an experienced filmmaker, Herzog was well aware of the fact that even a most faithful image of an image would always look like a Mona Lisa postcard in a Louvre souvenir shop. His film implies that the secret of the images of the Chauvet Cave must be sought elsewhere; on the walls of the caves of our unconsciousness.

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