little ashes, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

Little Ashes (2008) 

Inspired by Salvador Dali’s not-so persistent memories of his student days in Madrid, Little Ashes speculates on his relationships with the Federico García Lorca and to a lesser extent, Luis Buñuel. The three men first meet at a time when, according to the film’s opening credits, conservative morality invades every sphere of Spanish life. The trio’s rebellion against such restrictions manifests itself in various ways. Buñuel abandons Spain for the artistic freedom of France while Lorca stays, insisting change can only be achieved from within. Dali vacillates between the two. Still finding his place amongst the emerging Surrealist movement, the artist seems to relish the group’s desire to shock, disturb and surprise. Though this biopic attempts to employ similar tactics, the result is more often boredom, sleep and stupor.

Though Salvador Dali’s arrival at the Residencia de Estudiantes turns a few heads, he remains something of an outsider. Undeterred, Dali conspires to meet Buñuel who introduces him to his social clique. A friendship with Lorca soon develops, but when the poet wants to take their relationship further, Dali is unable to reciprocate. He leaves for Paris, availing himself of the city’s decadence while collaborating with Buñuel on the surrealist short film Un chien andalou. By the time Dali returns to Spain his politics have become more aligned to the ruling class, unlike Lorca whose beliefs continue to place him in danger.

There is a fascinating story to be told of the time Dali, Buñuel and Lorca spent together at Madrid’s Residencia de Estudiantes, but this isn’t it. Rather than focus on the emerging talents of these artists, Little Ashes uses the situation as a backdrop for a hypothetical romance. There may still have been some merit in this approach had the filmmakers been able to translate some passion to the screen. Instead, the few stolen kisses, longing looks and awkward encounters are subdued by the inconsequential inclusion of black and white sequences, newsreels and a gruesome bullfight. Robert Pattinson makes a valiant attempt at portraying the eccentric Dali, though one can appreciate why Lorca asks him “Who are you pretending to be today?”

Works from all three artists are featured throughout. Lorca’s poetry is read in Spanish but overdubbed by an English translation and excerpts of Buñuel’s Un chien andalou are included. Dali’s title work is also revealed as are visual clues of some of his later work.

Robert Pattinson, Salvador Dalí, Matthew McNulty, Luis Buñuel
Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson

as Salvador Dalí

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Matthew McNulty
Matthew McNulty

as Luis Buñuel

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Magdalena is a fictional character.

Biopic features no scene recreations, but does include original footage from Un chien andalou