This UK-Spanish co-production may only receive a limited release, but it’s likely that most of the media publicity for it will be surrounding teen heartthrob Pattinson and his sex scenes. While this is to a certain extent understandable, it is also a shame because it could end up overshadowing a fine performance in what is a good-looking and interesting small budget film about a triumvirate of true Spanish icons.
In 1920s Madrid, artist Salvador Dalí (Pattinson), poet Federico García Lorca (Beltran) and aspiring filmmaker Luis Buñuel (McNulty) are thrown together in student digs and soon became close friends through their artistic endeavours. Before long, Lorca realises he is falling in love with Dalí and the two being to spend more and more time together. Dalí is hesitant but keen to experience life to the full, goes along with it. Finding himself excluded, Buñuel leaves to pursue his career in Paris. Meanwhile, the Spanish Civil war is beginning and while the young idealist artists try to make their way in life and in art, Lorca’s very existence comes under threat because of his sexuality.
While the precise nature of Dalí and Lorca’s relationship is unclear, it is screenwriter’s Goslett assertion that something beyond simple friendship did take place. To enjoy and analyse the film, it’s important to accept this rather than to get into discussions about its historical accuracy. Where Little Ashes succeeds is in portraying these iconic figures as human beings, albeit often eccentric and unusual ones. As a result, there is a real sense of Lorca’s pain and Dalí’s confusion which makes for a number of tense and sometimes uncomfortable scenes. In that sense, it’s not always an enjoyable watch but it doesn’t detract from what is an excellent piece of film-making from director Paul Morrison.
Beltran, in his feature debut, is extraordinarily assured as the talented but insecure poet, while Pattinson does a fine job of playing Dalí’s oddball painter. He’s almost clown-like at times but he manages to rein it in sufficiently at the crucial moments to display the brilliant artist’s inner turmoil. Matthew McNulty, rather like Buñuel himself, is sidelined somewhat but adds a gruff masculinity to proceedings. Little Ashes captures 1920s Madrid perfectly, with the set designs, music and costumes all resplendent. It also has a seemingly effortless arty feel to it which although not overpowering manages to convey a sense of the artistic talent on show. But while the story is an interesting one and the characters clearly worthy of portrayal, it falls short of being dramatically gripping and as a result feels a bit languorous at times.