- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

Teenage girls — or their mothers — drawn to “Little Ashes” by the prospect of devouring with their eyes brooding “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson have a few surprises in store — tortured sexuality, life-and-death politics and a sliced eyeball, for starters.

That last image is from Luis Bunuel’s 1929 surrealistic classic “Un chien andalou,” which the director co-wrote with painter Salvador Dali. Together, the two helped change the language of film while still in their 20s.

Uglier things might have been brewing in 1920s Spain, but university life in Madrid was alive with possibility, as shown in the modest drama “Little Ashes.” A student dormitory proves a productive creative laboratory, housing three friends who became legends — Dali, Bunuel and the doomed poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

“Little Ashes” focuses on the relationship between Dali and Lorca — much of it conjecture — but Bunuel clearly was the gang’s leader at first. He coolly sizes up the new arrival, entering Dali’s room uninvited and examining his work. “Hiding all this brilliance isn’t very neighborly, you know,” he says, and it’s clear he has decided to accept Dali into the group.

The painter had a flair for the dramatic — and self-aggrandizement — even as a teenager. While everyone else discusses Spain’s future over tea in suits and ties, Dali dresses like a man from another century.

“Interests?” Bunuel asks. “Dada, anarchy, the construction of genius,” Dali replies. “Whose?” “My own.” So Bunuel introduces him to “another self-titled genius,” the already-published Lorca. Lorca’s and Dali’s passion for each other soon disgusts Bunuel.

Lorca fights his attraction to the singular artist, praying in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. He soon gives in, however — and Dali seems receptive. Lorca tries to take things too far for the delicate Dali, though. It seems as if these three collaborators might never even speak to one another again. Dali rekindles his friendship with Bunuel, though, and the Andalusian poet sees “Un chien andalou” as a direct attack. He throws himself into his work — and the fight against the fascists — with terrible results.

The film’s emphasis on the personal relationships comes at the expense of the professional. Dali was a visionary, but we never discover how he actually created himself. We get little sense of Bunuel’s vision, either. Here, the director of “L’Age d’or” comes off as a rather obtuse reactionary.

Still, these men are engaging enough to carry the film on their own. Matthew McNulty is commanding as Bunuel, but the sensitive Javier Beltran consistently steals the show as the tormented Lorca. Mr. Pattinson has taken on a much bigger challenge than playing a vampire — bringing a legend to life. He does an admirable job playing one of the strangest and most imaginative men to walk the earth. He’s shy and trembling when he arrives at the dorm, bombastic and determined when he leaves it. The transformation is striking.


TITLE: “Little Ashes”

RATING: R (Sexual content, language and a brief disturbing image)

CREDITS: Directed by Paul Morrison. Written by Philippa Goslett.

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

WEB SITE: littleashes-themovie.com


• Kelly Jane Torrance can be reached at ktorrance@washingtontimes.com.

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