Being a huge Luis Bunuel fan, I looked forward to Paul Morrison's Little Ashes for a rare depiction of Bunuel and his fellow surrealists who greatly influenced film and art immeasurably in the twentieth century and continue to be viewed as pioneers. Although advance word on the film indicated that poet Federico Garcia Lorca and painter Salvador Dali would serve as protagonists, I had hoped that the film would at least bring some illumination of the avant-garde creativity and lifestyle that Bunuel alludes to in his autobiography.
Sadly the film limps along about as lifelessly as one of Dali's melting clocks. So stick with the Bunuel and Dali biographies and creative art and Lorca's poetry for illumination and insight.
Philippa Goslett's screenplay not only fails to dig into surrealism and the artistic bull sessions that occurred frequently but also fails to illuminate the profound political turbulence erupting in Spain during the 1920s and 1930s. The biggest fault of the script lies with how badly it misses its own aim—to delve into the repressed homosexual desires between Lorca and Dali to create a character driven art film. Supposedly the screenwriter deciphered Dali's autobiography for source material, but even there all “love” expressions for Lorca remain strictly platonic.
Robert Pattinson (of Twilight fame) plays sexually confused Salvador Dali in near zombie mode, trying to be quirky by furrowing his eyebrows and going wide-eyed to overcome his expressionless voice. The only means he has to show anger and rage is to throw paint all over himself and his canvases. If emotional ambiguity is the goal, Pattison achieves this in spades since you can read whatever you want in his eyes.
Javier Beltran does better as Lorca, communicating a real longing when gazing at Dali—his tortured soul attempting to repress his desires in an intolerant world. He also leads in the film's best visual moment—a long awaited kiss by moonlight while swimming in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately the script doesn't fill in with sufficient details to explain his sudden commitment and dedication to the political struggles of the time or even show why his poetry is so revered.
Matthew McNutty simply isn't given enough to do as filmmaker Luis Bunuel in a supporting role. The script erroneously portrays him as an extreme homophobe for dramatic purposes, which instantly turned me off from the validity of this project. Distorting the facts this badly does nothing; the conservative Catholic world surrounding this trio provides sufficient hostility towards homosexuals. The surrealists were infamous for mocking society and frequently created “performance art” designed to outrage authority figures, the church, and commonly held beliefs/customs. THIS could create some real drama, but the script glosses over it … oh, so glibly.
It takes quite a stretch to transform Bunuel into the cardboard homophobe scripted. Check the only entry from Bunuel's autobiography that alludes to Lorca's sexuality:
I remember someone once telling me that a man named Martin Dominguez, a big man from the Basque country, was spreading the rumor that Lorca was a homosexual, a charge I found impossible to believe. One day, we were sitting side by side at the president's table in the Residencia dining room, along with Unamuno, Eugenio d'Ors, and Don Alberto, our director. ...
'Is it true you're a maricon?' I finally blurted out.
'You and I are finished!' he declared, shocked and hurt, as he sttood up and walked away.
By evening, we were the best of friends again. There was absolutely nothing effeminante or affected about Federico, and he had no tolerance for off-color jokes, particularly about homosexuals...
The one redeeming aspect of Morrison's film is that it might arouse some curiosity about this trio—although Lorca is the only character that comes alive enough to spark interest. But perhaps the famous eye-slicing snippet from Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou will cause an uninitiated film lover to seek this out and discover a much richer cinematic world. This film better conjures up Gertrude Stein's immortal quip, "There is no there … there."