FINDING ALTAMIRA – Review by Susan Granger
Focusing on the conflict between religion and science, this story revolves around the 1879 discovery of a cavern in Northern Spain that’s filled with pre-historic paintings of galloping bison. Jurist and amateur archeologist Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola y de la Pedrueca (Antonio Banderas) and his nine year-old daughter Maria (Allegra Allen) enjoy roaming the countryside of Cantabria, observing nature and chronicling their findings. Read on…
One day, Maria accidentally stumbles into a cave, hidden in a nearby hillside, and spies the remarkable etchings of bison and other animals. Not surprisingly, her observations ignite vivid nightmares which concern her devout mother, Conchita (Golshifteh Farahani).
Meanwhile, Marcelino comes to believe that these artifacts are Paleolithic – 35,000 years old – which is in direct opposition to the Biblical teachings of the Catholic Church. His astonishing assertion is repudiated by local skeptics like De Los Rios (Henry Goodman) and the Monsignor (Rupert Everett).
When Marcelino presents his conclusions at the Prehistoric Congress in Lisbon in 1880, he is publicly ridiculed by the eminent French historian Emile Cartailhac (Clement Sibony), who argued that pre-historic man was incapable of such artistic achievement.
Finally, in 1902, several similar paintings were discovered in France, prompting Cartailhac to admit his mistake in an article published in the journal L’Anthropologie.
Unfortunately, disgraced Marcelino died before his vindication/redemption. Maria subsequently married into a prominent Spanish banking family; one of the film’s producers is her relative.
Unimaginatively chronicled by Olivia Hetreed (“Girl With A Pearl Earring”) and Jose Luis Lopez-Linares, this period drama is directed by Hugh Hudson (“Chariots of Fire”), vividly photographed by Jose Luis Alcaine and enhanced by Evelyn Glennie and Mark Knopfler’s guitar compositions.
The poignant ather/daughter bond has the most emotional resonance, while a subplot involving Conchita and a local painter, Ratier (Pierre Niney), seems superfluous.
Coincidentally, geologists in Greenland have recently unearthed evident for ancient life in rocks that are 3.7 billion years old; if confirmed, according to the journal Nature, these fossils would be the oldest on Earth, altering scientific understanding of the origins of life. So, even today, the debate continues….
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Finding Altamira” is a persuasive 6, recalling a Spanish scandal.