By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
Just before he played a lovestruck vampire in Twilight — a role that would bring him the unconditional adoration of teenage girls the world over — Robert Pattinson portrayed Salvador Dali in Little Ashes, a speculative drama about the long-rumored affair between the young painter and the poet Federico García Lorca in 1922 Madrid.
But the hordes of Twilight fans hankering for another Pattinson fix to tide them over until New Moon arrives are bound to be bewildered, if not outright bored, by the star’s latest project. Too stuffy and mannered, Little Ashes succumbs to the dreaded Masterpiece Theater syndrome as a talky historical drama weighed down by self-importance.
Director Paul Morrison, working from a screenplay by Philippa Goslett, is too admiring of his subjects — and too conscious of their artistic legacies — to give them a noticeable pulse. Morrison does not, however, shy away from encouraging his international cast, which includes Matthew McNulty as Luis Buñuel, to recite their English-language dialogue with a Spanish accent thick enough to make you long for subtitles.
Little Ashes follows Dali’s splashy arrival at La Residencia de Estudiantes, where his rock-star showboating quickly draws Lorca’s attention. The writer’s growing infatuation with the brash new student makes his roommate Buñuel jealous, and a loose, platonic love triangle soon develops. Despite Buñuel’s vociferous homophobia, Lorca presses on with what develops into outright sexual attraction, and the curious Dali cautiously plays along.
Little Ashes draws a parallel between the young artists’ speculative affair and their rebellious idealism, which railed against the conservative climate of their era. The movie quietly argues that Lorca’s embrace of his homosexuality brought his art passion and honesty, while Dali’s self-repression led to artistic affectations and hypocrisy. But the argument feels reductive and pedantic, and the stiff performances by Beltran and Pattinson don’t help.
Little Ashes only truly comes to life when it depicts the collaboration between Dali and Buñuel on the 1929 surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou. The fleeting image from that film of an eyeball’s being sliced open momentarily cuts through the tasteful stupor the rest of Little Ashes generates.
Cast: Javier Beltran, Robert Pattinson, Matthew McNulty, Marina Gatell.
Director: Paul Morrison.
Screenwriter: Philippa Goslett.
Producers: Carlo Dusi, Jonny Persey, Jaume Vilalta.
A Regency Entertainment release. Running time: 112 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes. In Broward only: Gateway.