Much ink is about to be spilled over this controversial film about Dali, Lorca and Bunuel`s tempestuous youth, friendship and love...
In 1922, Madrid is teetering on the edge of change as traditional values are challenged by the dangerous new influences of Jazz, Freud and the avant-garde movement. Salvador Dali arrives at university. He is 18 years old and determined to become a great artist. His bizarre blend of shyness and rampant exhibitionism attracts the attention of two of the university`s social elite - Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunuel. Salvador is absorbed into their decadent group and for a time Salvador, Luis and Federico become a formidable trio, the most ultra-modern group in Madrid. However as time passes, Salvador feels an increasingly strong pull towards the charismatic Federico - who is himself oblivious to the attentions he is getting from his beautiful writer friend, Margarita.
Finally, in the face of his friends` preoccupations - and Federico`s growing renown as a poet - Luis sets off for Paris in search of his own artistic success. Federico and Salvador spend the holiday in the sea-side town of Cadaques. Both the idyllic surroundings and the warmth of the Dali family sweep Federico off his feet. Salvador and he draw closer as days pass, sharing their deepest beliefs, inspirations and secrets, convinced that they have found a kind of friendship undreamt of by others. It is more than a meeting of the minds; it is a fusion of souls. And then one night, in the phosphorescent water, it becomes something else...
Gripping and moving, this film portrays three young men, three great geniuses yearning for the absolute, pushing back the traditional frontiers of art and struggling with bourgeois conformism and upcoming fascism. At the heart of 1920s, 1930s’ whirling Spain, Dali, Lorca and Bunuel build themselves as artists and as men. As artists their expectations are not small “I need to go further. In life. In art. In everything.” as Dali sums up. Genius and creativity are put forward at the very beginning and set the tone. Bunuel and Dali are chatting: “Interest?” asks Bunuel, “Construction of genius” – “Whose genius?” – “My own”. Anarchic excitement of youth, its longing and its revolts are underlined by director Paul Morrison. They are filmed whilst getting inspired, working or claiming artistic statements: “Morality, immorality. Good, bad. We have to smash that to pieces”. And this is what the three brilliant friends do with their “No limits” credo. Lorca’s poems give the rhythm: Their trio is so mesmerising that spectators are yearning to be with them. However, the three young men are not only artists, they are also human beings discovering love, friendship and facing major life choices.
The film is mainly focused on the very special relationship between Lorca and Dali. Fascination, admiration, friendship, attraction, love. As Lorca, no one can remain indifferent to Dali (I said Dali, not Robert Pattinson). Vulnerable under his mask, sensitive, lively, childish and more than brilliant, he seduces Lorca from the very beginning. Dali is not that indifferent either and the comedy of love between the two young and tortured men is first amusing, before being beautiful and bitter. The film highlights some crucial questions about friendship, love, sexuality, homosexuality, betrayal, revenge and the desire to hurt the beloved one ... Falling in love with Dali at the same time as Lorca, spectators will experience Lorca’s feelings: his hopes and his sorrow as Dali changes and gets more and more big headed through narcissism and fame. Whatever it might be, it is also a reflection on personal integrity: what Dali sold and what Lorca died for.
As a relatively low-budget independent film, “Little Ashes” has all the qualities of a great movie. Beautiful and moving but also funny and light, it is served by a wonderful cast. Heart-throb Robert Pattinson who had not yet grown his vampire teeth at that time and his sorcerer’s broom for Dali’s moustache and homosexual love scenes. Surprising but not as surprising as his performance itself. Who could have believed anyone could have been credible as Dali let alone a young 22 year old actor like Pattinson? And yet, this really young man does it with subtlety and depth. His body language suits his character perfectly . He manages not to make it a caricature of Dali. It is hard to choose a favourite sequence, but both the arrival at the Residencia de Estudiantes and the sex scene with Lorca are outstanding because of the precision and maturity he shows in them. We could also applaud the fact that, having to speak with a Spanish accent for the film, the London-born actor remains credible. Do not simply go and see this film for Pattinson as a sex symbol or you run the risk of being disappointed. Go for the film itself and the actors` talent, and you will not be disappointed!
Javier Beltran plays opposite him. The duo is perfect and spectators will share their feelings throughout the film. Reserved, loyal, sincere and tortured, Javier Beltran expresses all his character`s confused feelings and despair only with his eyes. The contrast between his reserve and Dali’s eccentricity is poignant.
Last but by no means least, supporting roles are to be highlighted, especially Matthew McNulty who plays Bunuel and Marina Gatell as a hopeless well-intentioned lover. Bunuel’s troubles discovering the feelings between his two friends are particularly well interpreted by Matthew McNulty who oscillates between severity and compassion for Lorca.
Well, the range of emotions is all-embracing and so is the acting. There is pace and rhythm and the set is absolutely beautiful. So, is there anything that does not work? Some people will surely question the truthfulness of it since, if Lorca’s love for Dali is beyond doubt, Dali’s feelings are way less certain and he had always denied it. Here is what he said : `He tried to screw me twice... I was extremely annoyed, because I wasn`t homosexual, and I wasn`t interested in giving in. Besides, it hurts. So nothing came of it. But I felt awfully flattered vis-à-vis the prestige. Deep down I felt that he was a great poet and that I owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dali`s a**h*le.` (“Conversations with Dali” – Alain Bosquet). Is it really necessary to point out that this is not exactly the atmosphere of “Little Ashes’”? Screenwriter Philippa Goslett claimed she has done a lot of research and has the deep conviction something happened between them. However, is that really the point? As far as I am concerned, whether the film is totally true or not does not matter that much since the feelings it shows are unquestionably sincere. Lyricism is sometimes more important than truth, no artist will deny. And yet, if I had one reproach to point out, it is maybe an excess of sentimentality. It sometimes feels like they are trying to get tears from you at all costs. This will not prevent me, however, from going to see it again when it is released...
written by Joffre Agnes - review