Can religion and science co-exist? That’s just one of the big-picture questions examined with varying success in “Finding Altamira,” a well-mounted if largely prosaic period drama directed by Hugh Hudson (“Chariots of Fire”).
The film, set in late 19th century Spain, is based on the true story of Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola (a solid Antonio Banderas), an archaeologist engulfed by controversy when he and his precocious 8-year-old daughter, Maria (Allegra Allen, not ready for prime time), stumble on some remarkable paintings of bison in the cave of Altamira.
When Marcelino announces that these sophisticated images could be 10,000 years old, it heatedly pits the creationist views of the local clergy, headed by a dogmatic Monseñor (an unrecognizable Rupert Everett), against the Darwinian bent of Marcelino and his fellow thinkers.
This blowback also creates a rift between Marcelino and his devoted — and devout — wife, Conchita (Golshifteh Farahani), who fears being ostracized for her husband’s commitment to truth and logic.
Another problem arrives in the form of Émile Cartailhac, a pompous French prehistorian (Clément Sibony), who deems the cave paintings forgeries, thus permanently damaging Marcelino’s reputation.
Although the script by Olivia Hetreed and José Luis López-Linares traffics in vital ideas and still-timely assertions (“We shouldn’t try to fit facts into a set of beliefs!”), a looser, less self-important approach would have helped. Fantasy bits evoking the Paleolithic bison feel jarring and gratuitous.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica