By Ahmad Rafat
Cinemas all over Spain this year have been showing a new movie called Altamira, with Antonio Banderas in the title role. Mr. Banderas, one of the best-known faces in world cinema, plays Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, the discoverer of the Cave of Altamira in northern Spain. Golshifteh Farahani is his on-screenwife, Conchita.
The movie is directed by the British filmmaker Hugh Hudson, and shot in English. Mr. Hudson previously directed such titles as Chariots of Fire, Revolution, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, and Lord of the Apes.
It’s the story of the cave of Altamira, located 30 kilometers from Santander in northern Spain, and discovered in 1880 by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, a landowner from the area who was also an amateur archaeologist. Marcelino was resented in his lifetime for discovering the cave and its Stone Age paintings. He was even accused of hypocrisy, fraud and dishonesty.
Kayhan London spoke briefly by phone with Antonio Banderas – as he awaited to board a flight at Madrid Airport. We began by asking Mr. Banderas what kind of a person Marcelino was.
A: Marcelino was intelligent as well as a very honest and hardworking man. He inadvertently made a discovery that was not only ignored at the time, but also encountered strong opposition from the autocratic church, which accused him of apostasy. Unfortunately, the scientific world was also rigid in those days, and reluctant to question anything that had been previously proven.
What impressed me in this man’s personality was his belief in knowledge, and his refusal to give in to the pressures of formal science and of the authoritarian church. I believe that, as Iranians, you still face this problem. Many of you, like Golshifteh, my lovely co-star in the film, are unwilling to turn away from your beliefs in spite of the pressure from religious authorities.
Despite the fact that UNESCO has recognized the Cave of Altamira as a World Heritage site today, if you ask people in Spain about Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, they will tell you that they don’t know him. One of the goals of this film is to present the man who discovered one of the most important prehistoric heritage sites – a site that is more than 16,000 years old.
Q: Playing real-life historical figures on screen must be more difficult than playing fictional characters.
A: Screenwriters, directors and actors undoubtedly have more freedom in portraying fictional characters. When representing a real-life character, one can only choose fragments of that character’s life, as it’s impossible to reflect all of a person’s character traits and their whole existence in a 90-minute movie. In my portrayal of Marcelino, I emphasized his kindness and hard work, as well as his satirical response to the accusations and criticisms brought against him. History was truly unkind to Marcelino, and many people persecuted him in his lifetime.
Q: You always say that you prefer directing or standing behind a camera to acting or standing in front of a camera. Why?
A: An actor interprets the role that has been created by a director. In reality, he or she gives life to the director’s views and ideas about a character. I am more interested in the role’s creation than in its interpretation. I like to create a character that expresses my views and opinions.
Q: It’s been a long time since you last directed a film. Do you have a screenplay that you’re looking to direct?
A: I’m working on several screenplays at the same time. But I think my next film as director will be about the migrant crisis. We are all concerned by the migration of Syrian refugees these days. Europe has been unable to come up with an acceptable solution to this problem. The aim seems to be to overlook the dimensions of this tragedy. It’s enough to turn on the television and watch the news. It’s like watching a heart-rending movie. The presence of thousands of children among the refugees is a global tragedy.
Q: Can you briefly describe the screenplay you are currently working on?
A: It’s the story of a Moroccan woman and her 7-year-old son who leave their country for Spain on a boat. The little boy’s mother loses her life during the crossing, and he sets foot on Spanish soil as an orphan. The landing point for these migrants is opposite the villa of an American woman who lives alone. This woman and the little boy have nothing in common. Yet they desperately need each other at that moment in time.
If I say more, no one will go see the movie. It’s the story of two completely different lives that are light years apart, but are tied together at a given point in time.
Q: Based on what you said earlier about Golshifteh Farahani, do you think you will use her in this film?
A: Why not? Golshifteh is very sweet, and at the same time, she’s a fighter. She’s a very good actress as well, and I had a very positive experience with her in Altamira. Golshifteh can play any role, and that’s very important for an actor. She did a great job portraying a very religious Spanish woman in the 19th century, even though it had nothing to do with her personal experience and life.
Q: And your next film as actor?
A: I will be playing the celebrated Spanish painter Pablo Picasso in a movie directed by Carlos Saura.
Q: Mr. Banderas, you have been living in Los Angeles for 25 years, and are almost an American by now. What are your views on the upcoming U.S. presidential elections?
Many people don’t know this, but during the previous presidential campaign, the first Latino fundraiser for Barack Obama was held at my home in Los Angeles.
Q: So are you a Democrat? What are your views on Donald Trump and his statements against foreigners residing in America?
A: The success of every foreigner in America is a rebuke to Donald Trump’s nonsense. Of course, the problem is not Donald Trump; what we need to think about is the support that Trump enjoys among the American people. We must look at what middle-class Americans are fearful of, that leads them to cast their vote for Donald Trump.
(By Ahmad Rafat)