In today’s atmosphere, it’s hard to imagine we survived before we had computers at our disposal. Our knowledge of the expansive universe leads us to believe that even the wildest idea can come true. However, 1878 was a very different time with a compacted world view. While some areas of society were advancing and evolving, theology dominated the majority, creating a tightness between the religious and the scientific minded.
It’s not an unexpected circumstance, but during a time when one of the most significant discoveries in the world of evolution was unearthed, it becomes complicated. In Hugh Hudson's new movie, Finding Altamira, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola y de la Pedrueca discovered paintings on the walls of the Altamira cave in Cantabria Spain. This challenged the established timeline of events through human existence played out by the church. As an archeologist, Sautuola desired to find the truth behind the paintings, not pit the science and religious communities against each other. Even with his best efforts executed, the fight ensued.
Portraying Sautuloa is the decadent Spanish actor Antonio Banderas. He has been mesmerizing in previous films, but nothing makes you want to explore history more than the honor Banderas put forth as Sautuola. Banderas is a great actor, but nothing brings out his talent more than a movie from his homeland. The gravely voice that delivers these lines speaks a truth the viewer can’t deny. It’s as if each historical reenactment comes bathed in respect and tenderness. The emotional turmoil Sautuola must have felt is never questioned on film
This turmoil has not to be dealt with lightly. This was a time in our history when in certain areas the Church dominated the cultural norms. To go against God and his teachings was to go against convention. In a way it’s hard to comprehend the strict division that is being showcased in this film, yet at the same time it’s something that our current cultural climate is battling. Historically, when two commanding entities engage with each other, the outcome is never good.
It’s never a hard sell to root for Sautuola, what he discovered was breathtaking. Even the introduction to the cave filmatically is beautiful in the way the cantina light bathes the underground realm, bouncing between unspoiled primitive artworks. The amazement of the discovery washes over both you and Sautuola, which includes the understanding how much this will mean to the scientific community.
The Church quickly solidifies its position as the villain in the film. Their defiant intimidating stance on the timeline of events for our world sets up the antagonist in the film, performed perfectly by the unsettling Monsignor (Rupert Everett). While every great hero needs his villain, at times this one is too overpowering. That may be the point, as the Church was one of seemingly infinite power. However, when you have a secondary conflicting force in the academic community, who believe the paintings are a forgery, Sautuola feels pitted between mighty forces with no ground to gain.
It’s hard debating creative choices when they are influenced by actual events. As a student eager to learn about these events one would have appreciated a balance between villainous roles, dividing it between two conflicting divisions. With all of that said, however, Banderas conducts himself with prestige through all the adversity.
What stands out throughout the entire film is the struggle for recognition; the revelation of perspective. The conflicting forces are well defined, allowing the audience to choose which side they fall on (even perhaps allowing for a duality). This choice, while defiant in action, does not sever the possibility for progress. The audience is aware of the what these discoveries mean to our greater knowledge 150 years later, and what’s presented here is the hope of change.
There is a hope presented, hope that even in our times of strife, nothing can squash the inevitable evolution of acceptance. There are many examples of advances in science throughout the years, ones we now take for granted, but the beauty of this film surpasses most. The warmth and beauty introduced through the landscape of northern Spain and of the late 1800s transcends through logistics to the emotional. The audience is transported to a time when this mesmerizing discovery quite literally changed the world. A feeling of optimism our society is void of, and one we so desperately need.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Prodigy Public Relations