“Santa and Andres”: a peasant girl watches a banished writer in Castro’s Cuba, to protect the “revolution”

Santa and Andres”, directed by Carlos Lechuga (based on a story by Eliseo Altunaga), is a bizarre and oddly intimate drama with a stark political warning: communism is deeply hostile to homosexuality and to independent speech.

The setup sounds unpretentious and unpromising. In 1983 in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, a revolutionary peasant girl (Lola Amores) is assigned to watch an exiled gay writer Andres (Eduardo Martinez) in a remote hut conveniently, it turns out, in both mountains and near the shore. Some public event is supposed to go on nearby.

The film starts out in Spanish with a summary of Castro’s purges not only of gay people but of intellectuals in general.  One logically wonders, if his regime is so vulnerable to the books or articles of a few writers, why isn’t that an admission of weakness and illegitimacy?  But of course, the point of this kind of authoritarian is to force everyone to be the same so that everyone has an equal chance to survive, or so that no one can stand off at a distance and benefit from the labor of others.  By that kind of thinking, I wouldn’t be allowed to write and publish on my own without demonstrating some kind of community engagement.  Long term, I see this idea as a real threat today.

We can add a perspective with modern post-Communist Russia, where Putin fears that open speech accepting homosexuality will allow less competitive males to believe there is no point in having their own children and families, in a country with an underpopulation problem and demographic winter.

Andres claims he hasn’t written a word in years, and was banished after writing a book (like my “do ask do tell”) that the government didn’t like.  His mute nephew-boyfriend (?) (Cesar Dominguez), after putting him in a nearby infirmary with a stab wound, turns him in to authorities for having started a ew book.  Andres denies it.  The authorities will come to search his house and throw eggs on him for being queer and, therefore, counter-revolutionary.

So, will any redeeming chemistry come in his relationship with Santa?  Is the new book real?  Why are authorities so concerned about a half-finished handwritten manuscript (rather like my 1969 effort “The Proles” during the time I was in the Army)?

The end reminds me of the Mariel Boatlift (which occurred 3 years before), which resulted in calls for personal hosting of Cuban refugees by the LGBT community in southern cities in late 1980, well before the AIDS crisis would become known.

The film makes Castro’s Cuba look bad, approaching Kim Jong Un’s North Korea (which makes much more show today, but Castro gave us the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962).

The film was actually shot in Colombia.

A good comparison might be “Before Night Falls” (2000), by Julian Schnabel, with Xavier Bardem as Cuban poet and novelist Reynaldo Arenas (Fine Line Features) (legacy review).

Small business in Havana (wiki)

Mariel Boatlift refugee center in Miami (wiki)

Name:  “Santa & Andres
Director, writer:  Carlos Lechuga, Eliseo Altunaga (story)
Released: 2016
Format:  1.85:1  in Spanish, subtitles
When and how viewed:  sample review DVD from distributor, 2017/12/23
Length:  105
Rating:  NA  (R)
Companies:  Breaking Glass Pictures
Link: official  

(Posted: Saturday, December 23, 2017 at 8 PM EST)

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: Let Frances McDormand become “The Lobster”

As far as I can determine, Ebbing, MO is fictitious. I’ve been in the Missouri Ozarks myself a couple times, once in 1983 when I stayed in Joplin (later to be hit by a tornado) and visited the AOG headquarters in Springfield out of religious curiosity. In December 1992, after Clinton got in, I had flown to Memphis and driven up to Sikeston and west across US 60, where it’s flat until you suddenly encounter the gentle uplift of the Ozark plateau.

But Martin McDonagh filmed “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in the foothills of the North Carolina Blue Ridge, perhaps near Brown Mountain, where the ridges look larger than they really would.  I like to see movies set in specific places really filmed there.  There are shots of a hillside quarry that I don’t recall seeing in my own numerous adventures in the NC mountain country.

By the way, I think I drove through Branson in 1983, and my mother and aunt went to a concert there once upon a time.

But let’s get to the movie, a black comedy that gets Lobster-wicked. Frances McDormand (the pregnant detective in “Fargo”) plays Mildred Hayes, a single divorced mom out for justice after losing a daughter to rape a few years back. Since the town police chief (Bill Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson [“Natural Born Killers”, 1994]) has failed to solve the case, Mildred coughs up multiple grands to rent three billboards on a “mountain” road outside town.  The early scene where she pays “Red” (a freckled Caleb Landry Jones) the bounty sets the tone for what follows. Soon she has a session with the dentist (“Little Shop of Horrors”) where she stabs the dentist in the thumbnail with a drill. Bill is ready to arrest her, but coughs up blood all over her and is quickly diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. (Lance Armstrong coughed up blood when his testicular cancer metastasized, and we all know about his spectacular recovery, his bicycle races, and his own fall.)  Now I get into spoiler territory, out of necessity. Bill ends his own life, not out of anger over Mildred, but because he doesn’t want to become a medical spectacle.

Then there is the angry gay cop Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who goes on a rampage and throws Red out the window, and does other stuff and gets fired.  Mildred thinks he torched her signs, and winds up torching toe police department herself. All of this set up an opportunity to solve the case and lead to a vigilante, extra-judicial (like Duterte) revenge conclusion. Bill writes post-suicide letters to a number of people, telling them their good sides.  Dixon, even fired, gets the idea that he can redeem himself, even though he is badly burned and disfigured when the police station is torched.  He goes into a bar (Ebbing isn’t big enough for a gay bar per se, and gay bars rarely have brawls compared to straight bars), and overhears a man bragging about raping a girl.  He thinks he finally found the suspect.  And even if he is the wrong guy, he and Mildred can enforce the death penalty themselves on someone.  Along the way, she pretends to date the dwarf James (Peter Dinklage) even if he isn’t physically he perfect “catch”. It gets Shakespearian.

Bill has two young daughters, whom he indulges, like on a fishing trip.  But Mildred’s kids are more adult, particularly Robbie Hayes, of college age, played by Lucas Hedges, who looks muscled up and buff for this role, ready to protect mom.  Lucas, as in all of his roles, talks like a polished, educated young man, better than the people in the surroundings that reared him.  It’s as if being a successful person were more about genes than mere upbringing and parenting. Mildred checks that he is sleeping soundly on the early morning that she goes out with Dixon to enforce extra-judicial capital punishment on the rapist,  because she knows her son would stop her from doing it.  But the movie declines to show the final execution that we know will happen, no questions asked.

My overall reaction was that this satire makes fun of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”, the poor white trash who rose up out of the politics of resentment to put Donald Trump in the White House, with the help of the Russians, who sent fake news to people like this.

The Amazon link above is for the screenplay script.  This one will be taught in classes.

The bar scene has curious musical accompaniment: the andante from Mozart’s Piano Sonata #1 in C, K. 279 (not the famous #15); the slow movement sounds almost like Scarlatti.  The film music score is vt Carter Burwell, whom I think I have heard of (maybe met) through the Metropolis Ensemble.

Bell Mountain in the Missouri Ozarks, Wiki.

First picture is Mother’s from near Branson; second is mine near Brown Mountain in NC (near the filming location).  And, oh, yes, in 2002 I almost wound up working for “the state” as a contract programmer in Jefferson City (per diem while I was still living in Minneapolis).

Name:  “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director, writer:  Martin McDonagh
Released:  2017/11
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, Thanksgiving Day, afternoon, fair audience
Length:  115
Rating:  R
Companies:  Fox Searchlight, Film4
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2017 at 9 PM EST)

“The Skyjacker’s Tale” and left-wing terrorism

Jamie Kastner’s 76-minute documentary “The Skyjacker’s Tale”, while not exactly the Pardoner’s Tale (from Canterbury), is indeed a riveting account of the background of a political hijacking in the 1980s, New Years Eve 1984, to be precise.

Ishmael Muslim Ali aka Ishmael LaBeet got a gun onto an America Airlines flight from the Virgin Islands and demanded to be left off in Cuba.  The film has many snippets of the elder l:aBeet talking from Cuba today, saying he is respected in his neighborhood.  He sounds proud of what he did.  But as Obama normalized (somewhat) relations with Cuba in 2014, he could face extradition again to the US.

The background is that in September 1972, apparently about the time of the Munich Olympic attacks, LaBeet and a cadre of other black men stormed the Rockefeller owned Fountain Valley Golf Club in St. Croix, killing at least five white people.  The motive was at first thought to be robbery but soon began to appear to be race and class war.  There were stories that this was an armed insurrection intended to make the Virgin Islands a black country.  The film makes a lot of the rhetoric of the time;  in some circles around the Black Panthers, you could not remain moderate;  if you didn’t didn’t fight for them, you were part of the enemy.  For a time much of the Virgin Islands was shut down by the terror threat.

LaBeet and the others were eventually caught, and confessions were extracted perhaps with torture (“Extreme Rendition”).  LaBeet wound up serving about 12 years in mainland US prisons before legal tricks got him back to the Virgin Islands for retrial. When he was flown back to the states to return to prison, he pulled off his own heist.

Charlotte Amalie, wiki

Communist Party HQ in Havana, wiki

See also “American Heiress”, Jeffrey Toobin’s book. Nov. 9, 2016.

Name:  “The Skyjacker’s Tale”
Director, writer:  Jamie Kastner
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play, 2017/11/15
Length:  76
Rating:  na
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 at 11:50 PM ESR)

“The Mountain Between Us”: The wilderness airplane crash survival gets painful, but the love story is silly

The Mountain Between Us”, directed by Hany Abu-Assad (based on the novel by Charles Martin), is mostly a survivor-in-wilderness piece, like “Cast Away” (2000, by Robert Zemeckis with Tom Hanks as “Wilson:) and “127 Hours” (by Danny Boyle, where James Franco plays trapped hiker Aron Ralston amputating his own arm when trapped).  Remember also “The Life of Pi” (2012, by Ang Lee) where a teenage boy trains and tames tiger Richard Parker on a raft at see.  And there is Sean Penn’s tragic “Into the Wild” (2007) with Emile Hirsch (“just living”).  Maybe 85 of the 112 minutes are taken with this 2-person drama, which sounds like it could get tedious.

Ben (Idris Elba), a doctor,  and Alex (Kate Winslet), a photojournalist), suddenly decide to ride a private charter in the mountains when commercial flights are canceled. Alex has to get to her wedding in Denver. The pilot’s very smart dog accompanies them. When the pilot (Beau Bridges) has a stroke and dies, the plane crashes high in the mountains.

There follows the extended survival story, which moves along faster than one expect. While Ben is scouting, Alex survives an encounter with a cougar (which probably would not attack humans in real life) and they wind up roasting the cat as food. Eventually they get the courage to go down the mountain and find an abandoned cabin.  Despite both having serious injuries, they’re able to start a  and consummate a romance (interracial) , somewhat predictable.

The dog discovers a nearby logging camp.  Ben steps on a fur trap, but the dog leads Alex to the camp and they are rescued.  (in the movie “The Artist” a dog plays a similar role in one scene.)

The film has a twenty minute epilogue in London and New York about the romantic implications of the whole event, which seems rather silly, but it does explain the title of the film.

The novel appears on Amazon Create Space.

The film appeared in Toronto ad Venice film festivals,  Oddly, it was picked up by 20th Century Fox as a main brand release rather than Fox Searchlight, despite the indie feel of the film.

Panorama Mountain Village, British Columbia (wiki), actual filming location.

NBC Dateline ran an episode “Into the Wild” about the self-rescue of a female teenage pilot who crashes in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, review here.

(Picture: High Sierras, CA, in 2012, my trip.)

Name:  “The Mountain Between Us”
Director, writer:  Hany Abu-Assad
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/10/11, late, only 2 people in audience
Length:  112
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Fox 2000
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“Abacus: Small Enough to Fail”: how New York State targeted a local immigrant cash “off the books” economy

Okay, there ought to be a moral impulse to start small businesses, especially financial institutions that can work intimately with the members of local communities.  Such was the case with Abacus Federal Savings Bank founded in Chinatown in New York City in 1984.

In 2012, prosecutors in Manhattan indicted the bank and 19 former employees for fraud regarding mortgages sold to Fannie Mae, maintaining that the bank did not properly report the risks of some consumers.

That’s the background of the new documentary film “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” by Steve James.

The film takes us through the courtroom drama of the trial and jury deliberations, which almost hung. The customers tended to work with cash and “under the table” through their own social capital a lot more, so it was harder to prove resources.  In some cases “off the books” transactions didn’t get reported to the IRS.  One employee was fired and plead guilty to fraud, but the others, as well as the company, were finally acquitted.  The company maintains it did not underwrite subprime mortgages. But this was the only financial institution actually prosecuted in any connection with the 2008 financial crisis.

It was rather interesting to hear testimony about the physical placement of workers on the bank floor, as if that could add to evidence of collusion.  I was once a witness to workplace litigation where that issue was raised in a deposition.

I’ve also heard that Fannie Mae used to be a very difficult place to work in the I.T. area, especially in the 1990s.

Name: “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
Director, writer:  Steve James
Released:  2016
Format:  1.66:1
When and how viewed: Landmark E St, 2017/7/5, afternoon
Length:  88
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS Frontline, ITVS
Link:   NYTimes reviewofficial

(Posted: Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

“Two Lovers and a Bear”: in northern Canada, a polar bear plays guardian angel to troubled lovers fleeing their pasts

Two Lovers and a Bear“, by Kim Nguyen, is a bizarre little film that pits desperation and the will to live against a harsh environment, and argues for befriending wild animals to boot.  The film touches the fringes of sci-fi and erotic mystery without going very far.

Roman, played by the charismatic and boyish Dane DeHaan, drives trucks and run errands in Iqaluit (actually, Apex) in Nanavut, formerly part of Northwest Territories, above Hudson Bay, Canada, well above the Arctic Circle. He has an off-on relationship with a more bookish girl friend Lucy (Tatania Maslany) who wants go to Montreal or Toronto to college and study pre-med. Both he and Lucy have issues with abusive pasts.   He also has the unusual talent of befriending wild animals, especially a particular polar bear, with whom he carries on conversations (voice of Gordeon Pinsent).  (It occurred to me that Reid Ewing could have played this role, given his history with dogs on social media.)   The film shows a few impressive shots of the polar bear alone, and gives us a moment to ponder whether climate change will endanger is magnificent and free animal, well up the scale in intelligence.

Roman resents her leaving and even kicks her out when she wants to make up, but then they do make up and go on a journey south together on a snowmobile, oblivious to a coming spring blizzard.  The bear has three conversations with Roman in the movie, and is obviously concerned for Roman’s life. The bear knows he can survive but humans can’t (again, ironic, given the climate change issue).  Dangers mount, as Roman falls into an crevasse but Lucy gets him out.  They then have an interesting sequence inside an abandoned military facility that they stumble into, but this doesn’t give them enough wisdom to avoid tragedy.  But the Bear seems to have the key to their entry into heaven.

The early scenes in the film make indoor life in the village look more prosperous than we expect.  There is a party scene in a home early in the movie.  Everything, including Internet, seems to work.

I’ve had a couple of encounters with wild animals.  In Maine in 1974 on a trail on Mt. Katahdin, I saw a black bear in the distance, but he didn’t pay attention to me.  A few years ago on the Appalachian Trail near Stoney Man in Virginia, I saw a mother bear with her cub. She saw me but did not act concerned. She calmly crossed the trail with her cub and ran down the mountain.  On the day of Hurricane Sandy (in the DC area, a long way from the area of major damage), a crow twice chased me back into my garage, as if to warn me of the storm.

There have been a couple of films from Russia about the far north with similar moodiness, such as “The Return” (2003) and “How I Ended This Summer” (2010) and “Leviathan” (2015).

Wikipedia picture, Iqaluit.

Wikipedia picture, Apex.

Name: “Two Lovers and a Polar Bear”
Director, writer: Kim Nguyen
Released: 2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix, Instant play, 2017/5/23
Length: 98
Rating: R
Companies:  2oth Century Fox (rather than Searchlight, unusual for Fox), Entertainment One, Netflix
Link:  official FB

(Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 7 PM EDT)

“Austerlitz” shows Nazi concentration camp tourism

Austerlitz”, by Sergei Loznitsa, provides a curious film concept. In a 94-minute exercise in trolling people in black and white, the filmmaker portrays tourists to visit the museum-exhibits of the Nazi Holocaust concentration camps Dachau and Sachsenhausen.

The first ten minutes of the film portrays nothing but a people-watch of tourists entering the gates near a sign reading “Arbeit macht frei”. We notice many are carrying phone headsets to listen to commentary. Then we do start hearing some tour guide content.  One of the most interesting is that the early camps were set up for intelligence purposes: to interrogate possible dissidents against Hitler, and even intercept plots to kill Hitler.  Only later did the Jews, as well as gypsies and homosexuals, become recognizable populations.

There is a chilling scene where a guide with a British accent explains how the victims were told to expect a shower, before getting gassed with Zytron.  One couple has a picture taken in front of a black crematorium.

As for the tourists, many are attractive, slender, young white males, ironically what you expect in a gay bar. You will see the same people, with recognizable T-shirts, based on companies or sports teams, more than once.

I was not aware of this massive level of tourism. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau on a Tuesday morning in late May, 1999, having arrived on the night train to Krakow from Berlin, and then taking a taxi to the site (about $60 for the day).  I don’t recall that there was any crowd, maybe a few other tourists walking around at some distance from me.  I did visit rooms with shoes and skeleton remains, and dorms.  I walked along the notorious railroad tracks.  I don’t recall having a headset.

In the first chapter of my novel “Angel’s Brother”, a “part time” CIA agent, married and living a normal life of a history teacher in Texas, visits Birkenau the way I did, and in a light crowd, meets a mysterious college student and rides back with him.  Why both are there develops with the story.  There was one scene in the film of a young man off by himself, on a cell phone, sitting near a wall, who looked like the college student in my novel.  There may have been one other person from the US that I recognized, appearing twice with the camera going blurred the second time, a rather strange effect.

Wikipedia picture of Dachau.

Auschwitz-Birkenau visiting information.

Name:  “Austerlitz”
Director, writer:  Sergei Loznitsa
Released:  2016
Format: 1.85:1, black and white
When and how viewed:  MICA Brown in Baltimore, 2017/5/7, fair audience
Length:  94
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Imperativ, Deja-vu
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, May 8, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

“Fire at Sea”: documentary of mass migration to Italy from Africa at a Mediterranean island, Lampedusa

Fire at Sea” (“Fuoco Ammare”, directed by Gianfranco Rosi) is a compelling is somewhat loosely structured two-hour docudrama portraying life on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, actually closer to Africa than to Italy, of which it is legally a part – as the military, medical people, and ordinary townspeople deal with the nightly arrival of migrants from Africa.

Many of the migrants arrive seriously ill from exposure to diesel fuel on the boats, which mixed with sea water and can produce disfiguring chemical burns.  Most of the burn victims are women (and children), because they tend to sit in the lower portions of the boats as the men surround them to “protect” them.

The migrants describe having come from as far away as Nigeria (through Niger), fleeing Boko Haram, and then being chased out of Libya.

The Italian Navy patrols the waters and does take their distress calls.  The townspeople are used to being expected to help them.

A major subplot of the film concerns the 12 year old boy Samuele, who enjoys playing with his slingshot.  His dad wants him to learn to be more helpful to other people, including the migrants.  For example, Samuele gets seasick when he walks on the pontoon, but his father lectures him about toughening his stomach.  At one point he has an exam with a doctor who simply finds hypochondria and anxiety, as well as a “lazy eye” which is slowly improving. In a climactic scene near the end, Samuele goes out into the woods alone at night to encounter a bluebird in the bush.

The DVD contains a brief commentary by the director in English, a QA at the New York Film Festival, and a 30-minute interview with Dr. Pietro Bartolo, who describes some changes to the film before the Berlin Silver Bear festival (to make the people seem more sympathetic), and then describes the medical horrors of the boatlift.  One pregnant woman’s water broke, and she could not deliver the baby for two days, but the baby girl turned out OK. Bartolo says that Europe needs migrants, and he believes these migrants pose no security threat and take the jobs White Europeans don’t want or can’t do.  He comments on white Europe’s low birthrate and aging population, and economic need for immigrants.

Lampedusa picture, wiki.

Name:  “Fire at Sea”
Director, writer:  Gianfranco Rosi
Released:  2016/2
Format:  1.85:1, in Italian with subtitles
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/4/12
Length:  116; extras 46
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

“Frantz”: Ozon’s post World War I mystery

Frantz”, the latest film from Francois Ozon, is a period mystery, with a pacing that reminds one of Hitchcock.  It is set in another world Germany and France in 1919, after World War I. before the inflation and reparations got really bad in Germany.  The present time of the narrative is filmed in black and white Cinemascope (like Hud), with the flashbacks in a sepia color.  The film is in German and French, with subtitles.  The name of the tragically deceased character is deliberately ironic.

Anna (Paula Beer) grieves the loss of her fiancé Frantz (Anton von Lucke) and regularly puts flowers on a cemetery mark, even though his body was lost in the trenches. One day an appealing young Frenchman Adrien (Pierre Niney) shows up at the cemetery.  Frantz’s father, a doctor, asks him to leave and blames him personally for the horror Germans endured, and says he could never treat him (violating the Hippocratic oath). But Adrien wills his way into the family.  We learn that Adrien is a concert violinist, like Frantz had been, but struggles with hearing loss after the war.

The backstory shows how they became friends in Paris (with a hint of gay intimacy), and later presents their tragic accidental and fatal encounter in the trenches, setting up the moral dilemma for the movie.

Yet, there are signs of a bizarre romance between Adrien and Anna.  There is a swimming scene and then beach, where the camera dawdles on Adrien’s smooth chest, and then shows the only war wound, near the appendix.

But after Adrien returns to France, Anna goes looking for him, setting up some more ironies in the plot.

There’s a bizarre barroom scene where Frenchmen sing “La marsellaise”, out of Berlioz and out of “Casablanca”, but with some twists in words.

The movie has a brooding film score by Philippe Rombi, and some typical recital pieces, including a movement from a Tchaikovsky Quartet, and what sounded like an Alma Mahler song (I didn’t see it in the credits).

There’s a scene where Frantz’s father blames all fathers for goading their sons to fight for country.

There are critical scenes in the Louvre in Paris, looking at a painting of a suicide by Manet, with viewers filmed from behind, a technique from a famous scene in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and in Brian de Palma’s “Dressed to Kill”.

The tone of the film reminds me of “The White Ribbon“, which sets up pre-Fascist ideas.

The color scheme is the inversion of what happens in my screenplay “Do Ask Do Tell: Epiphany”.  I put present day (on a space station Rama world) in sepia;  true events on Earth in backstory in full color, and fiction embedded in a leading character’s writings in black and white, all anamorphic wide screen.

Name: “Frantz”
Director, writer:  Francois Ozon
Released:  2017
Format:  2.39:1 Cinemascope, Black and White with sepia color for flashbacks  (French and German, subtitles)
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St.  2017/4/9 fair crowd   (Casablanca was in Dallas at the Inwood Theater in 1982)
Length:  111
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Music Box Films, Mars
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, April 8, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

 

“Finding Altamira”: discovery of prehistoric cave art in Spain in 19th century triggers a science v. religion controversy

Finding Altamira” (2016), directed by Henry Hudson, about challenging religious precepts with science, something quite daring in the 19th Century.

In 1879, explorer Marcelino Sanz de Sautuloa y de la Pedrueca (Antonio Banderas), an amateur explorer, investigates a vaguely known cave in northern Spain.  His daughter Maria (Allegra Allen) notices the prehistoric paintings and in time makes the discovery known.

The local Catholic church establishment sees this as a threat, as personified by the Monsignor (Rupert Everett).  Pretty soon Marcelino is pilloried and “unpopular” in a way common today for people who don’t go along with their peers.  This film certainly seems timely given Donald Trump’s populist strategy and his apparent disdain for science as privileged and elitist.

There is plenty of dialogue about the tension between individualistic rationalism and the ability to “love people”.  There are lines to the effect, that God made the world, and created it for his own glory; to maintain otherwise (including questioning the virgin birth) is anathema, to demand excommunication from the church.  Even Picasso would see this as “decadent”.  Marcelino’s wife, Conchita (Golshifteh Farahani) challenges the monsignor, saying she will place her husband before God but not before “you”.

The cave art is thought to be 35000 years old, maybe Neanderthal.

The piano music background includes Mozart (Sonata 15), Scarlatti (who draws comment), and a transcription of the Prelude to Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”.

The film has some interesting animation sequences of the bison in the drawings as the child dreams.

Wiki picture from cave.

Wiki picture of Bilbao, east of caves, which I visited in April  2001.

Name:  “Finding Altamira”
Director, writer:  Henry Hudson
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD 2017/3/28
Length:  93
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Samuel Goldwyn
Link:  official;   NY Times

(Posted: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 11:15 PM EST)