Directed by Paul Morrison. Starring Javier Beltrán, Robert Pattinson, Matthew McNulty, Marina Gatell, Arly Jover. (2009, R, 112 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 7, 2009
Back before he became a phenomenon – the Twilight franchise’s swoony vampire boy Edward Cullen – Pattinson and his gorgeously high cheekbones had genuine acting ambitions. Those ambitions are clearly evident in Little Ashes, a film that, likely, would not be making the rounds of the theatrical circuit were it not for the lure of those cheekbones. The story is an overheated fantasy about the sexual and political lives of the young Spanish artists Federico García Lorca (Beltrán), Salvador Dalí (Pattinson), and Luis Buñuel (McNulty). The actors give the effort their all, and Pattinson particularly stands out because of Dalí’s signature adornments: his foppish clothing (especially when he first arrives at the school that the boys all attend), the waxed mustache, and the outrageous ego. Who knows? Maybe the tweeners who flocked to Twilight will find Pattinson’s Dalí equally irresistible (in fact, I personally know one girl who spent many teenage hours swooning in front of Dalí’s melting clocks in the Museum of Modern Art). However, this tame yet R-rated story about repressed homosexual desire and the rise of Spanish fascism is unlikely to capture the hearts of many who are not already familiar with the lives and works of this group of artists. Rather than centering on the headiness of the times and the fervor created by the coming-together of these emerging talents, the film dwells more on its speculative drama concerning Lorca’s sexual attraction to Dalí, who, though drawn to the other man, is unable to reciprocate. Some of the film’s suppositions are based in Dalí’s latter-day recollections, which are notably the work of a raging egotist and known fabulist. Yet, as speculations go, Little Ashes is a remarkable portrait of how the “love that dare not speak its name” whispered its desire and presence in another era. Despite the sensitive depiction of homosexual desire, the protagonists will not be the only ones frustrated in this film. Those looking for a homoerotic coming-out story will be just as put off as Pattinson’s fans are by Little Ashes. The film’s biggest problem, however, is the decision to have all the characters speak their parts in English with heavy Spanish accents. It just fuels the film’s inauthenticity and makes everything more stilted. The revelation of Little Ashes turns out to be none of the leading men but rather Gatell, a riveting actress cast as the girlfriend who is mystified by Lorca’s lack of sexual interest in her. Sexual repression claims yet one more victim.