An amateur archeologist (Antonio Banderas) and his daughter make a landmark discovery—cave paintings dating back to the Paleolithic Era—and he faces backlash from cognoscenti and clergy in Spain, in Hugh Hudson’s Finding Altamira. The based-on-a-true-story period piece, set in 1879, comes off as a vaguely spiritual middlebrow melodrama. Banderas earnestly conveys an insatiable appetite for knowledge, but some of his dialogue is so wooden that it is a logjam in the flow of the movie, not to mention unintentionally funny, like when he huffily says, “I’m going to my cave!” The movie’s costumes, production design, and cinematography are remarkable, but despite creating an air of mystery around the cave paintings, Altamira fails to evoke their sublimity. One poor attempt, which seems at odds with a film grounded in reality, uses the daughter’s imagination to conjure an animated sequence of roaming bison reminiscent of The Beasts of the Southern Wild. If Hudson doesn’t convey what’s so amazing about the cave drawings visually, he does it verbally, as the movie revels in ideas, more so than the biographical prestige film The Theory of Everything. Despite staying safe in terms of sex and language, and relying on a stock character, an evil monsignor (Rupert Everett), Altamira does a fine job of rebuking Darwinist academics and Catholic Church clergy alike, showing that both can be dogmatic—while the former can be snobby. Snobby and wrong.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White