Director Hugh Hudson put some spring into the step of “Chariots of Fire,” his Oscar winning account of runners in the 1924 Olympics but fails to bring the story of the discovery of stone age cave paintings to vivid life.
Set in 1879, Antonio Banderas is amateur archaeologist Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola. A free thinker with an interest in Darwin and prehistory, he creates controversy in his community when he and his daughter uncover Maria (Allegra Allen) unearth cave paintings depicting life two million years ago. “This discovery in our province is of enormous significance in the history of mankind,” says Sautuola.
Not everyone agrees.
Although a university of Madrid archaeologist dates the etchings to the Palaeolithic Era other scholars disagree. “A vast fresco painted by a tribe of Palaeolithic Michelangelos,” says on mockingly. Church leaders fume at the suggestion of life beyond their historical parameters—“Monkeys with paint brushes!”—and even his own wife, Conchita (Golshifteh Farahani) has a hard time reconciling his science to her deeply held religious beliefs. “You have lost your faith and want to take mine,” she says. The discovery, a profound challenge to the entire country’s belief system, exacts a toll on Sautuola both personally and professionally.
“Finding Altamira” is a handsomely rendered movie. The period details add to the overall feel of the film, even the computer generated bisons that spring to life from the drawings don’t seem that out of place. Hudson shot on location—including inside the cave itself, now a Unesco site—but all the pretty pictures can’t make up for the mannered dialogue and reserved performances. Banderas and Farahani seem to have stepped out of a “Masterpiece Theatre” episode, handing in work that would have benefitted from fewer restraints. Only Rupert Everett as the villainous Monsignor seems to be having any fun.
The film documents an important discovery plus the intolerance and jealousies that it was met with. It’s just too bad the film isn’t more interesting. As it is “Finding Altamira” feels like the kind of movie your science teacher ran in class when they didn’t feel like lecturing.