Eye For Film >> Movies >> Little Ashes (2008) Film Review
Spain, 1922. A place bursting with new ideas - intellectual, artistic and political. Three young friends meet at university - Luis Buñuel, destined to become an iconic film-maker; Salvador Dalí, who would become one of the world's greatest painters; and Federico García Lorca, a poet who enjoyed limited success in his lifetime but has come to be acknowledged as one of the country's most important writers and a key critic of fascism. The friendships that form are intense, the atmosphere electric. But the passionate intellectual connection between Federico and Salvador gradually spills over into something else, leaving Luis sidelined and bitter, and threatening destruction even in its beautiful beginnings.
Whether or not anything ever did happen between the artist and the poet remains contentious. Dalí himself denied it for most of his life, but went on to say, rather ambiguously, "besides, it hurt". This was certainly not a period when gay people felt they had many options or when homosexual feelings were easy to admit to, especially for somebody like Dalí, who found himself quite satisfied in his numerous affairs with women. But García Lorca's obsession with the artist is well recognised, and it is handled sympathetically here; after all, it couldn't have been easy to be in love with a man almost as famous for his selfishness as he was for his paintings.
Little Ashes has gained a lot of attention because its Dalí is played by Robert Pattinson, fresh out of Twilight, who has hordes of fans. They won't be disappointed here, with plenty of the actor on display (in more ways than one), and his performance is solid throughout, though he doesn't really get the space to show what he can do until the final scenes. However, it is Javier Beltrán (as García Lorca) who is the real standout, delivering a performance that could easily have slipped into sentimentality with heartbreaking precision. He is aided by snatches of the poet's beautiful verse which reveal a depth of passion far beyond anything else in the film, both for Dalí and for his country - a passion that would ultimately result in tragedy.
As Buñuel, Matthew McNulty has less to do, but he handles the role with skill, creating sympathy for a character whose prejudices will make modern viewers uncomfortable and suggesting that, in the end, they were trumped by friendship. Marina Gatell is also good as the friend smitten with García Lorca but offering him support and understanding when she knows he can offer her nothing more.
At times this film suffers from an over-reliance on costume and setting to draw the viewer into a world much more complex than tis superficial view provides for - there's a sense in which it seems to be depending on the very artistic traditions that Dalí and Buñuel worked so hard to overturn. But it is easy on the eye, with cinematography to rival the best of Merchant Ivory, and it ultimately does a good job of using its central love story to make more sophisticated comments about art and politics. Perhaps not quite all that it might have been, it's still well worth a look.Reviewed on: 07 Jun 2009