The first thing that came to my mind when I heard that Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson would play a young, sexually confused Salvador Dalí in Little Ashes, was of Leonardo DiCaprio as Arthur Rimbaud in Agnieszka Holland’s unusual Total Eclipse (1995). In fact, several parallels can be drawn between the two films: iconic present-day Anglophone “It boy” is cast as foreign artistic iconoclast of yesteryear, forbidden affairs with fellow male artists ensue, and it all ends tragically because bourgeois society is not as open-minded as the artistes of the Avant-garde—and because brooding romantics have a penchant for destroying their relationships. However, Little Ashes is a far more coherent film than Total Eclipse, drawing (whether deliberately or subconsciously) on a smattering of Queer Cinema references, from Bette Davis melodramas to the glitter-fantasias of James Bidgood, in a way that’s so over-the-top it just about works.
The film, which focuses solely on the early lives and careers of its subjects, takes place largely at the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, which pulsates with the excitement of new ideas and the beauty of fresh talent. Young intellectuals, among them Federico García Lorca (Javier Beltrán) and Luis Buñuel (Matthew McNulty), tear through the hallowed halls of their school with cocky self-assurance until a mysterious and private young man arrives and captures Lorca’s attention. Dalí’s entrance onto the scene is shrouded in mystique; when he exits his carriage, we only see his garish shoes before the camera pans up to reveal his dandy wardrobe, complete with ruffled shirt and a cockamamie bob every bit as distracting as Anton Chigurh’s. While Ashes was in the can before Pattinson branded himself onto the brain of every 13-year-old girl (and inner 13-year-old-girl) as the smolderingly chaste vampire Edward Cullen, his portrayal of Dalí, in this post-Twilight era, reads as a spookily close incarnation of the same character. Skulking in doorways and spying from windows, Dalí quietly admires Lorca from a safe distance. In fact, Dalí doesn’t speak until several scenes in, giving him the silent allure of a melodrama heroine, except for the fact that his awkward bug-eyed stares from behind that crusty wig are more discomfiting than enchanting. Thankfully, his capriciousness prompts him to change his coif early on, opting for a slickly handsome combed-back hairstyle.
Cick here to read the rest of Sarah Silver’s review of Little Ashes.