After I got over the fact that he-of-the-sparkling-vampire-fame would next hit the big screen as Salvador Dalí, I started to warm to the actual premise of Little Ashes. The story of how a young Dalí befriended two other seminal 20th-century Spanish artists is actually very intriguing.
Three brilliant minds coming together to push their ideas about art and politics beyond conventional boundaries in the midst of an increasingly conservative (and fascist) society is potent stuff. I'm not surprised someone wanted to make a movie based on it. Unfortunately, Little Ashes manages to suck (no Twilight-pun intended) all the fiery passion right out of this slice of history. Save for some stunning shots of Spain's countryside and coast, the film is mostly a melodramatic slog through the past. To see what I mean, read more.
The year is 1922 and Salvador Dalí (Robert Pattinson) arrives in Madrid at the prestigious Residencia de Estudiantes, where he meets other young minds bursting with potential, including the poet Federico García Lorca (Javier Beltran) and aspiring filmmaker Luis Buñuel (Matthew McNulty). Already the eccentric, Dalí appears on the scene in oddball ruffles, and Pattinson plays him as a sort of bulging-eyed introvert who eventually morphs into an outspoken avant-garde artist with a huge ego. Over time the three boys form a little posse from which some of the most innovative ideas in Spain will originate.
Finally, something of a tortured love triangle forms between the men, which does lead to some provocative sexual scenes. But the torrid details of their relationship aren't the main concern of the filmmakers; rather, they earnestly try to bring to life the events that inspired these men and their art.
Working from a script by Philippa Goslett, director Paul Morrison is sadly unable to capture the essence of the times, and the script often undermines any attempt at creating a palpable experience. By resorting to yawn-inducing narrative tactics like poems being read in voiceover and Pattinson uttering one supposedly controversial line after another with a melodramatic wave of the hand, the movie conveys certain facts about the men, but none of the heart. The effort is sincere but the end result is a flat and boring movie.
Photos courtesy of Regent Releasing