Hugh Hudson’s Finding Altamira is a rote but engaging historical drama about the eternal debate between truth and mythology. While exploring a recently revealed cave with her archaeologist and all-around-rationalist father Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola (Antonio Banderas) in 1879 Spain, nine-year-old María (Allega Allen) discovers paintings of bison and other animals.
Scandal ensues as Marcelino’s deduction that the paintings are at least 10,000 years old sits well with neither the local Catholic bigwig Monseñor (Rupert Everett) nor a scientific community still grappling with evolution, let alone the concept that early humans could produce such work. (We’re told in the end that the paintings were in fact 35,000 years old.) Not every dramatic decision works, such as the hint of an affair between María’s mother, Conchita (Golshifteh Farahani), and the artist (Pierre Niney) Marcelino hires to reproduce the cave paintings, and while the marketing focuses on Banderas’s big bushy face, Finding Altamira is framed as a flashback of the adult María (Irene Escolar).
A notable theme is the subjugation of bright girls like María, who gets punished for mentioning evolution in Catholic school and is told by her traditional mother that a lady should avoid stating facts because “it’s most unbecoming.” Sadly, fears of both science and educated women are still with us a more than a century later.
Directed by Hugh Hudson
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Opens September 16, Village East