Sunday, May 31, 2009

FILM: Little Ashes

It wasn't on my radar at all, but George caught wind of an intriguing British-Spanish film called Little Ashes, about the relationships between the artist Salvador Dalí, poet/playwright Federico García Lorca, and filmmaker Luis Buñuel, who became close friends in the early 1920s attending university in Madrid. I'm glad we caught this interesting and illuminating film, as it was playing only at the Laemmle Music Box and only for another week. The film does a great job of portraying these three fascinating men, and in capturing the milieu of Spain in the heady 1920s, when young intellectuals dared to rebel against the conservative social order, and the tumultuous 1930s leading up to the Spanish Civil War. I was familiar with Dalí's paintings, and had seen a García Lorca play, and the film "Un Chien Andalou" (a collaboration of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, and probably required viewing in any modern film class), but I didn't know much about these men's lives. I came away from the film with a very vivid picture of García Lorca, the sentimental, soft-spoken though passionate Andalusian poet, portrayed pitch-perfectly by Javier Beltrán (who even resembles a photo I later found of the poet). I came to the film with a notion of what Dalí was like, which was greatly deepened by the equally profound performance of Robert Pattinson (who shows he's got much more in him than teen vampires and Harry Potter classmates). We watch him transform through the film from the shy boy who first shows up at school, becoming more confident and more outrageous, eventually becoming the larger-than-life character of his famous years. The film slowly but relentlessly builds romantic tension between the two, and the romance, which exists more in suspension than in consumation, is shown as a major force in their lives. Buñuel, who seems to have sexual repression issues of his own, impacts the other two as encourager, critic, and collaborator. His portrayal by Matthew McNulty was a hyper-manly Hemingway-esque character, which fits perfectly as this time and place, this social circle, and this story all conjure Hemingway. The texture of the film was marvelous, capturing the period with an authentic synergy of costume, music, lighting and sets (it really felt like an old movie), some tantalizing Spanish scenery, and visual allusions to "Un Chien Andalou" (parts of which were also actually included). The story was compelling, and the dialog mostly authentic and even poetic, except for a couple of spots near the end (Magdalena's farewell and García Lorca's tavern speech) that seemed a bit anachronistic, writing contemporary thinking back into a historical period where it didn't seem authentic. But despite those spots, I felt the story really worked over all. The script was well-grounded in actual history, and though core elements of the story, particularly the romance between García Lorca and Dalí, are speculative at best, it rang true for me. It makes sense that García Lorca would have taken "Un Chien Andalou" personally, and that Dalí and Buñuel would have intended it personally, showing how much these men haunted and inspired one another. The sentimental poet stayed devoted to his country, and remained to try to make a difference there, while the other two ran off to Paris to pursue the artistic and intellectual scene with no serious interest in politics, even as their native country was falling into an abyss. In a way, each man's life was a living reproach of the choices of the other, yet they couldn't escape an admiration of one another's artistic spirit, and on some level, a mutual attraction. A fascinating portrait of the artists as young men.

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