The young Salvador Dali (Robert Pattinson) arrives at Madrid's Academy of Fine Arts in 1922 as an 18 year old determined to become a great artist. His bizarre blend of shyness and rampant exhibitionism attracts the attention of Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran) and renowned filmmaker Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty), two of the university's social elite. Salvador is absorbed into their youthfully decadent group and for a short time in the mid 20s Salvador, Luis and Federico become a formidable trio, the most ultra-modern group in Madrid. But Madrid is too cramping for Dali as is his friendship with Lorca.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An intriguing film about an intriguing subject, Little Ashes is filled with marvellous cinematic images and a complex mood of socio-political revolution, artistic longing and considerable tenderness. It's as complex as its subject matter, the artist Salvador Dali (Robert Pattinson) as a young man, an emerging artist forged - like his friends the writer Federico Lorca (Javier Beltran) and Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty) - in the fire of rebellion against the oppressive and rigid social, religious and political climate of Spain at the time.
Early in the film, Dali declares that he's decided that if he is to succeed at art he must go to extremes; 'no limits' becomes his mantra. The film traces almost 20 years (jumping 8 of them) as Dali goes to Paris and becomes a success. But unlike many biopics of artists, we don't follow him through his work but through his relationships with his early friends, relationships which are turbulent, but lasting. The 8 year jump dislocates us from Dali as we meet his new self - it's like seeing a friend after 8 years without having any contact, without photos, without context. It slices the film in two, like the razor that slices through the eye in his famous first film collaboration in 1929, The Andalusian Dog, made with Luis Bunuel (a clip of which is shown).
Robert Pattinson is an unexpected choice to play Dali, though he does it well and with absolute commitment. Perhaps it was a commercially driven choice, part of the process that sees the film made in English, with the Spanish cast doing their best to make their lines understood through often heavy accents. But this is sometimes a necessity and one that can work well, as it does in the acclaimed The Last Station (2009), a partial biopic of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. The difference is that in The Last Station the cast was naturally English speaking, unlike here.
Language aside, Little Ashes is a snapshot of an insight into the life of one of the most complex artists in history and it intensifies rather than satisfies our curiosity about him. It is, however, revelatory about Dali's relationship with Lorca.
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LITTLE ASHES (MA)
CAST: Robert Pattinson, Javier Beltran, Matthew McNulty, Marina Gatell, Arly Jover
PRODUCER: Carlo Dusi, Jonny Persey, Jaume Vilalta
DIRECTOR: Paul Morrison
SCRIPT: Philippa Goslett
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Suschitzky
EDITOR: Rachel Tunnard
MUSIC: Miguel Mera
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Pere Francesch
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Kojo Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 25, 2010 (Chauvel, Sydney & Palace George St Kilda); April 1 (State, Hobart & Blue Room Cine, Brisbane)