Discovering Prehistoric Art

Through the magic of brilliant cinematography and gorgeous location shots, Finding Altamira takes us back to the 1800s in Spain during a time of conflict between religion and science. It tells the story of Marcelino Sautuola (Antonio Banderas/Original Sin), an amateur archeologist who owns the land where mysterious paintings are found in one of the caves on his property. Marcelino and his colleague Juan Vilanova (Nicholas Farrell/Legend) believe the art was created by humans much earlier than anyone ever suspected.

Unfortunately, this belief does not meet with approval from the church or from other scientists. Plus, Marcelino’s wife cannot fully support his theory because of her religious beliefs, which causes family problems. But his darling little daughter, who first sees the cave art, stands by him.

Banderas appears very comfortable in the role of Marcelino. He’s quite convincing as a well-behaved gentleman, a caring father and loving husband as well as a man dedicated to his scholarly mission despite the obstacles in his way. Banderas shows a wide range of emotions as his character goes through so many ups and downs. Of course, it helps that this particular actor is always so watchable.

Newcomer Allegra Allen delivers a spunky performance as the supportive daughter. The energy this child brings to her character simply lights up the screen. As the doubting wife, lovely Golshifteh Farahani (Body of Lies) does a great job earning our empathy while still making us wish she would be a more “stand-by-your-man” kind of gal throughout the ordeals depicted. However, Rupert Everett (The Importance of Being Earnest) -- usually wonderful on screen -- disappointed me with his slightly off-kilter turn as a pompous priest who bad-mouths the cave paintings whenever he gets a chance.             

Masterfully directed by Oscar-winner Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire) from an insightful script by Olivia Hetreed (The Girl with a Pearl Earring) and Jose Luis Lopez-Linares (Calle 54), Finding Altamira excels at showing the joys and sorrows that can come from a historic discovery. It also paints a beautiful picture of a tender father/daughter relationship.

Kudos to Jose Luis Alcaine (Volver) for his terrific cinematography. I was especially impressed with the shots inside the cave and the daughter’s fantasy sequences involving animals in the pre-historic cave art. Thanks to the movie’s first-class production values, excellent costumes, moving background music and special visual presentation, watching Finding Altamira made me feel like I was transported back to a different time and place. And that’s what period movies are supposed to do.   

I hope this remarkable film will be remembered during the 2016 awards season.

Altamira hides works of art.

And finding them is where things start.

A little girl falls in a cave.

Then looking up, she’d like to rave.

 

Her father sees the pictures too.

He wants the world to know they’re true.

But forces stand against this man

and plot to wreck his earnest plan.

 

Banderas nails his crucial role.

We cheer the man’s most worthy goal.

The film itself pleases the eye

with lovely sights that make us sigh.

 

Don’t miss this one if you like art

or movies filled with lots of heart.

(Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films; not rated by MPAA.)

For more information about Finding Altamira, go to the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes website.