Bay Area Reporter Reviews 'Little Ashes' (Contains Spoilers)   8 comments

Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) was Spain’s most acclaimed playwright (Blood Wedding, Yerma, The House of Bernardo Alba ) and poet of the 20th century. He was also openly gay and a vocal opponent of Francisco Franco’s Fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War. Consequently, he was killed by Fascist soldiers. Last year, director Paul Morrison, working from a screenplay by Philippa Goslett, released Little Ashes, an exquisite drama that focuses on Garcia Lorca’s relationship with the Catalan surrealist painter Salvador Dali. It has just been released in DVD.

The film begins in 1922, as Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran) and Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty) arrive at a Madrid art school. They are soon joined by the eccentrically dressed  Dali (Robert Pattinson). Art – cinema (Bunuel), literature (Garcia Lorca), or painting (Dali) – consumes them. So does their friendship. Bunuel is intensely homophobic, perhaps because he is subconsciously attracted to one or both of his companions. One night, seeing two gay men together, he shouts that maricones (“faggots”) should be shot.

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In scenes evocative of the acclaimed PBS production of Brideshead Revisited, Garcia Lorca and Dali fall in love. They bike along Spain’s rough sea coast, spend hours at the beach, read poetry, share embraces,  finally kissing. Their first attempt at sex fails when Dali angrily refuses to be anally penetrated. A second attempt, at their rooms, is interrupted by Magdalena (Marina Gatel), another writer who is in love with Garcia Lorca. Later, in a remarkable scene, she has sex with him while he stares intently at Dali – clearly imagining him underneath. Dali watches from a corner, masturbating.

Bunuel, suspicious of Garcia Lorca and Dali’s relationship, sneaks a look at the poet’s diary, confirming his fears. He walks to a nearby cruisy spot, encourages a man to approach him, and as the man prepares to fellate him, Bunuel viciously kicks and beats him, then storms away. He leaves Madrid for Paris.

Dali follows Bunuel to Paris, profoundly wounding Garcia Lorca. Dali and Bunuel collaborate on a short film, the acclaimed Un Chien Andalou (An Andalucian Dog ) (1929), which Garcia Lorca feels is an attack on him.

In Spain, Garcia Lorca becomes a successful dramatist. As the Spanish Civil War begins (1936), he uses his fame to support the Loyalists against Franco’s Fascist forces, who were aided by Hitler and Mussolini. He travels to Paris, and is welcomed by Bunuel, now estranged from Dali. In a mad pursuit of fame and wealth, Dali has compromised his art and youthful dreams. He’s married to Gala (Arly Jover), 11 years his senior, whom Bunuel says has sex with every handsome man she can find while Dali watches. Garcia Lorca visits them at their lavish home. He resists Dali’s flirtation. Gala, encouraged by her husband, tries to seduce him. Garcia Lorca, all romantic memories of his companion erased, leaves.

Bunuel urges Garcia Lorca to stay in Paris, warning that he will be killed in Spain. Although touched by his concern, he says he must   fight for what he believes. In Spain, he rallies people to oppose Franco. In a lovely scene, his male lover kisses his hands after a speech. Bunuel, having briefly returned to his homeland, expresses his admiration for his friend and seems to have overcome his homophobia.

While visiting his family near Granada in Andalucia, Garcia Lorca and his father are seized by Fascist troops, beaten, subjected to homophobic slurs, and shot to death in a field, their bodies left unburied. In Paris, a visibly moved Bunuel, Magdalena, and other friends hear radio reports of his murder, and toast his memory.  A grieving Dali smears black paint over his face. The Fascists ban Garcia Lorca’s writings.

For much of the movie, Morrison’s direction is lyrical, but it intensifies to reach a heartbreaking end. Beltran, with his sad brown eyes and charming smile, is splendid, capturing Garcia Lorca’s gentleness, courage, and strength. Pattinson is superb as Dali, never letting eccentricity become caricature. The handsome McNulty (who resembles a young Alain Delon) is riveting as the complex, angry Bunuel. Gatel is moving as Magdalena, accepting Garcia Lorca’s homosexuality for what it is: his true nature, one he didn’t select. The beautiful original music is by Miguel Mera, and the evocative costumes by Antonio Belart.

Although its title comes from one of Garcia Lorca’s poems, the film is based on Dali’s 1969 conversations about their friendship. The self-serving painter insisted he wasn’t gay, and claimed that two times he refused to let Garcia Lorca “screw” him, in part because it hurt, an admission that he was at least twice open to sex with him. “Deep down I felt he was a great poet, and I owed him a tiny bit of the Divine Dali’s asshole.” The movie implies that Dali’s best self died when Garcia Lorca was killed.

Neither Garcia Lorca nor Franco imagined how Spain would change following the latter’s 1975 death. It’s now among the world’s most socially liberal countries. Gays and lesbians have full equality – including all marriage rights and open military service. King Juan Carlos doesn’t use the hereditary  title, His Most Catholic Majesty, bestowed by Pope Alexander VI  on his predecessors in 1469. Rather, he   reigns over a country that freed itself from an oppressive Church and now offers catholic rights to all citizens. Federico Garcia Lorca helped make that happen.

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8 responses to “Bay Area Reporter Reviews 'Little Ashes' (Contains Spoilers)

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  1. Thanks, really the best Rob´s film!!! love Dali!!

  2. It is an inspiring film, rob,s performance is great and very emotional,It only shows you how deep an actor rob really is………………….

  3. I really love this movie.
    It’s romantic, moving… well done.

  4. Fantastic review – and the movie is heartbreaking, beautiful and historically rich. Both J.Beltran and R.Pattinson are beautifully interpreting Dali and Garcia Lorca. I do cry a lot in the end when Garcia Lorca is executed and Dali feels he has lost him forever…

  5. Me encanta este artículo, gracias por subirlo, lo traduciré y lo pondre en mi blog. Little Ashes es una maravilla y el trabajo que hace Robert es increible, ahí es donde demuestra que es una actor de los pies a la cabeza, borda … Dalí ! Igual que Javier Beltran como García Lorca, la hace genial.
    Besos

  6. Wow, I’m glad I didn’t read that before I watched the movie. It basically tells you everything that happens in the movie.

    I finally bought it and saw it last weekend and waited for a moment when I could watch it alone because I knew it would not go over well with some members of my family.

    I was mesmerized. It was beautiful. I truly did not expect to like this film, but I was blown away by the performances of Javier, Rob, and Marina. They are absolutely splendid. I cried at the scene in the field. Yes, some of it was shocking to me, but I think this film is a gem and I’m sorry it didn’t get more recognition.

  7. I also didn’t expect to like this film ….I loved it. It was a pleasant surprise as it actually had me sad that these two geniuses of their time weren’t able to fulfill a loving relationship. I could see their connection and adoration for each other.
    This film left me wanting to know all about Lorca’s life and poetry as well as moving me to read about Dali and understand the surrealism in his art. The main actors portrayed the characters wonderfully. I just wish people knew more about Dali before seeing the movie & they would understand the oddities Rob had to bring to the character. Javier, Rob & Marina were just beautiful.

  8. I really liked this movie, which was a surprise, as I was prepared to NOT like it after reading some critics’ reviews. I was very impressed with Rob’s performance and thought he did a credible job of portraying Dali. I found the movie to be very interesting and moving, and highly recommend it to Rob fans. And if you’re not a fan, you might be pleasantly surprised at what a good job he did.

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