Published May 21, 2009Shot with the lushness of the early Merchant-Ivory works, British director Paul Morrison's Little Ashes traces the genius of early 20th century Spanish surrealists down to good old-fashioned romance, betrayal and heartache.
Centred mainly upon the barely post-teenage Salvador Dali (Robert Pattison) as he enters university in Madrid, where he quickly draws the attention of poet Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltrán) and filmmaker Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty). When Bunuel sets off to conquer France with his groundbreaking cinematic dreamscapes, Dali and Lorca intensify their friendship until it explodes into romance, infecting the seminal works of each man. There are a few moving scenes of the artist at work — Dali literally throwing his entire body into his paintings, as well as Lorca's prose flowing into the voiceovers.
Morrison keeps telling the audience about these two intertwined souls destined to make beautiful art together but the spark never really translates to the audience. As such, much of the film feels rote, with the impassioned works of the characters chalked up as mere products of generic heartache. The rampant homophobia of Spain during the era is addressed but even with archival news footage incorporated into the action the very genuine threat feels almost tame in its bluster.
However, with Hispanic heartthrob appeal the movie will no doubt appeal to the masses becoming accustomed to hot hunk-on-hunk action (represented by the positive notices for Brokeback Mountain and Milk). Pattinson in particular comes as a built-in draw for Twilight fans; his alternately sullen and expressive character spasms show an actor desperate to make an impression, even if exactly what impression is never quite clear.
The graceful maturity adopted for gay love scenes now is certainly appreciated but the dynamic between the two men always feels just short of passionate. (Kinosmith)