Most Americans have some knowledge of the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali (1904-1989), even if the late artist is arguably most identified solely for his famous “The Persistence of Memory”, AKA “the painting with the melting clocks”.  In addition to his vast body of art, Dali was also known for his eccentric persona, which included that famously odd mustache which pre-dated John Waters’ famous ‘stache by decades.  It’s a safe bet that far fewer Americans know about Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca (1898 –1936), even though he is considered by many to be one of the greatest modern poets of Spain (and beyond) of all time.  Those of us lucky enough to have read or heard Lorca’s poetry know that passion was the central force of is work.  Similarly, passion is the central force of “Little Ashes”, a movie based on the intense and very complicated relationship between Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca.  The title is actually the name of one of Dali’s paintings, from 1927 or 1928.  “Little Ashes”, the movie, is based in part upon interviews with Dali towards the end of his life.  Set in 1920’s and 1930’s Spain during a turbulent time in that country’s history, director Paul Morrison utilizes the historical backdrop of the coming Spanish Civil War.  He equally utilizes a cast of young, exciting actors and some gorgeous scenery to create a movie that’s a feast for the eyes as well as the emotions.

     The movie opens when art student Salvador Dali– played by Hollywood’s reigning “It Boy” Robert Pattinson (“Twilight”) arrives at the Academia de San Fernando.  His fellow student and soon to be friend Federico Garcia Lorca, played by Javier Beltran, is already somewhat famous at the school for his poetic talents.  Film student Luis Bunuel, played by Matthew McNulty, is also in attendance at the school and becomes friends with the two. Ultimately, Bunuel has a pivotal role in both Dali’s and Lorca’s lives.

(Bunuel’s most notorious film would be “Un chien andalou”, translated into English as “Andalusian Dog”.  Trivia: What “shocking” American cult classic movie would ultimately be compared to “Andalusian Dog”?  See the end of the review for the answer…)

      Shortly after Dali arrives, it takes the audience about 30 seconds to sense the sexual tension between Dali and Lorca.  Amidst the carefree, intellectual-bohemian cocktail party vibe at the beginning of the movie (During the film, I remembered asking my friend, “Does anyone ever study at this school?!”), the friendship between Dali and Lorca becomes more intense, treating the viewers to some truly romantic scenes between Pattinson-as-Dali and Beltran-as-Lorca. Wa tching beautifully photographed scenes of good-looking actors in lush settings may be enough to keep the audience’s (OK, most of the audience’s, at least the gay guys’…) attention for the length of the movie… and indeed, “Little Ashes” features plenty of eye candy.  But beyond the cinematographic beauty, there are the intense emotions the characters convey.  Longing.  Jealousy. Unrequited love.  The repression of sexual feelings.  The desire to express their destined creative goals so strongly that it seems like they’re going to burst right out their bodies…

     The actors get it right.  In a testosterone-heavy cast, actress Marina Gatell stands out with her intense, touching portayal of the character Magdalena, who’s in love with Lorca but, accepting that he’s gay, knows that he cannot reciprocate her feelings.  In the movie’s early scenes, Robert Pattinson’s young Salvador Dali transforms from an eccentric, somber introvert with a fondness for anachronistic clothing to an extroverted free spirit– still eccentric, but strangely charismatic.  By the end of the film, when Dali is in his early ’30’s, we suspect that the artist may have become as unhinged as he is brilliant.  His transformation is not always easy to watch, although the handsome Pattinson doesn’t allow the audience to take their eyes off him.   As Lorca, the equally attractive Spanish actor Javier Beltran has the less showy role of t he two male leads… but it’s impossible not to be moved by his sensitive, at times heartbreaking, portrayal of Lorca.  Although some critics will no doubt point out that the filmmakers of “Little Ashes” needed to take creative liberties with the exploration of Dali and Lorca’s relationship, there’s no doubt about what became the real-life fate of Federico Garcia Lorca.  The incoming, repressive political atmosphere and accompanying Nationalist militia — which viewed both homosexuals and intellectuals as dangerous– ultimately decided Lorca’s destiny, as we learn in an ending that’s likely to stay with the viewer for a long time.

     In “Little Ashes”, the characters are passionate about their artistic and creative visions… and they extend that same passion into their relationships on the screen.  One character paid the ultimate price for his artistic and creative visions, as well as his personal life.  Thankfully for us, the art lives on forever…

…and that includes film…

(Answer to trivia: John Waters’ 1972 movie “Pink Flamingos” was described in New York magazine as “The nearest American film to Bunuel’s Andalusian Dog.” In “Andalusian Dog”, a character’s eyeball is slashed with a razor– in full detail.  In “Pink Flamingos”, lead actress Divine eats dog poop– in full detail.)


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