After a 15-year absence from filmmaking, British director Hugh Hudson returns with an historical drama about the discovery of the Altamira cave paintings in Cantabria, Spain and fallout from the religious and scientific figures of the time.
Hudson doesn’t make bleak looking films – even his work on the much maligned Revolution, starring Al Pacino, was shot beautifully, and Finding Altamira is no different. The camera sweeps through the picturesque Spanish landscape as it drills into the caves. Even in the dimly lit underground there is a warming orange hue to proceedings.
The film quickly establishes Antonio Banderas’s Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola y de la Pedrueca, aka Marcelino, as the man who discovered the caves. He knows it is a massive find and holds off showing it to the locals or the establishment for fear of it being taken away from him. It is left to his daughter to accidentally wander into the caves before Marcelino can bear to allow others onto his property. This inner struggle begins to play out in public, causing rifts in Marcelino’s work and his marriage (a sterling and emotional performance by the stunning Golshifteh Farahani). The story then becomes a power struggle between Marcelino and the naysayers.
It’s difficult to take anybody else’s side in the film as it is so heavily sided towards Marcelino. As such the villains become instantly dislikeable, including a snivelling hate-filled performance by a shaven-headed Rupert Everett, as they bully Marcelino into submission. His fight against the religious specialists turns him into a figure of hate. Banderas gives a powerful, yet dialled back performance as one man who sees his life of riches and splendour disappearing before his very eyes due to the conflict the caves are causing.
The caves are the centre point of the film and they do feel like a real physical presence throughout, almost lurking in the background as a mistress to Marcelino. Big praise has to go to cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine who shoots the caves magnificently. Even if you’ve never been to the real caves it does look & feel exactly like being right in there and staring up at the incredible works of Palaeolithic art. The cinematography also gives a sense of how tiny the caves are thanks to Alcaine’s tight camera angles.
Finding Altamira lightly touches on the theme of religion versus science. However, the main story is one of a man wronged and the subsequent follow up of trying to clear his own name against dissenting voices including his own family.