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Little Ashes
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Little Ashes – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In 1920s Madrid, an introverted but egocentric and slightly disturbed artist Salvador Dalí (Pattinson) arrives at an art college where he’s taken under the wing of two equally influential young creative types — the film-maker Luis Buñuel (McNulty) and the poet Federico García Lorca (Beltrán).
Over the coming weeks, they tidy him up and introduce him to high society where his talent allows him to get away with being rather badly behaved and irreverent.
There is one element of his behaviour, though, that doesn’t go public – in 1920s Spain, homosexuality is illegal, so his love affair with Lorca is kept strictly behind closed doors – or on secluded beaches.
The film chronicles the forbidden love affair between Lorca and Dalí and the effect it has on all three of them.
Making his disgust at such behaviour quite clear, Buñuel decides that with the rise of the Franco regime, he’ll have more success in pursuing his film-making in Paris.
Buñuel later persuades Dalí that Paris is a better place for artists too and soon, Dalí heads north too, leaving Lorca with a huge Dalí-shaped hole in his heart that can’t be filled by his best female friend Margarita (Gatell), who’s had the hots for him for years.
Time, distance and the onset of the Spanish Civil War put unbearable pressure on the relationships between the three men – as they grow apart and form new alliances – but continue to be influenced by their time together.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

It’s always hard for a film to cover an extended period – in this case fourteen years – in an hour and a half, without feeling disjointed and this isn’t entirely successful on that front. It picks certain key moments and then, necessarily, jumps several years – it all feels a bit clunky.
Also, crucially, for a film about passionate artists, there doesn’t seem to be enough passion flying around and there’s, perhaps, not all that much art, either.
These were arguably the three giants in their fields worldwide at the time, all growing up together, yet we see just a couple of Dalí paintings and hear a bit of Lorca’s poetry, but see very little of Buñuel’s creative antics until the film is almost over. But perhaps, for Dalí and Buñuel, their greatest works were completed after the time-period though.
And apart from Lorca’s work, you don’t really get a sense of what drives them as artists – and in the case of Lorca, you wonder how he was able to write anything before life started causing him pain.
The film centres on Lorca and his unhealthy obsession with Dalí, but perhaps because art and film are more visual than poetry, you get a sense that a film about Dalí or Buñuel would have been more satisfying.
The artist and the film-maker, if not as tortured, were more interesting, three dimensional characters. And when Buñuel headed off to Paris, I rather wished we’d followed him and waited for Dalí to join him there, rather than hung around in Spain with Lorca.
Because the film jumps from period to period, you don’t get a sense of how the artists became what they became – one minute, Dalí is an unknown and the next he’s already risen to be the toast of Paris and then fallen by the wayside again.
The film has a very good sense of the period – the costumes, hair-styles, locations and music – and the paranoia of the impending rise of fascism is palpable as the plot develops.
But perhaps the highlight of the film is Pattinson’s turn as Dalí – with all his ticks and quirks. This role – filmed before he shot to fame in Twilight – might not appeal to the same teenaged girl audience, but it’s definitely worth a look.

WHAT’S MORE?

A hard decision for directors of films about foreign characters to make is what language to shoot in.
These three greats of the art world were, of course, Spanish – as were most of the co-production partners – and even some of the actors – but the film was shot in English.
So the next question has to be whether to have the characters stick to their English accents – and let the audience infer their Spanishness, or whether to have them talk in Spanish accents, lest we forget.
Sadly, as with the recent Defiance and The Reader, the film-makers went for speaking English with foreign accents.
OK, so the accents are authentic – some of the actors are Spanish, after all – but at times, they’re so strong, it’s hard to understand the dialogue. And just to confuse matters, when we hear Lorca’s poetry, it’s in Spanish, with Beltrán translating in voiceover.
Such inconsistency as this – and the occasional shouting of lines in Spanish by extras – grated somewhat.
If the poetry is more beautiful in its original Spanish, perhaps the whole film should’ve been shot in Spanish with subtitles.

Opens 8 May 2009

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