Paul Morrison’s Little Ashes speculates on the relationship between three talented students in Madrid in 1922.

What makes this trio so unique is that they all went on to become famed artists in their own right; the painter Salvador Dali (Robert Pattinson), the gay poet Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltrán) and the filmmaker Luis Bunnel (Matthew McNulty).

It explores their early years as enthusiastic, rebellious students trying to live the bohemian life in the context of a dangerously conservative Spain on the brink of civil war. The film suggests that the relationship between Dali and Lorca moved beyond friendship into one approaching a romance. And it’s in this area that it is most successful.

As a sweet story of unrequited love I enjoyed Little Ashes although I learnt little about the famed iconic characters represented on screen. There is, at times, an almost palpable sexual tension between the two artists. But, despite the much hyped “nude” scene and man-on-man kissing involving hottie du jour Pattinson, there’s not really much on screen.

Pattinson is annoyingly coy at first but is more interesting as Dali becomes increasingly eccentric and ruthlessly ambitious – but simply not enough. He is perhaps too young to pull this one off. There’s no denying, however, that the actor has some unique quality – an odd beauty and charisma that comes alive on film. Beltrán’s lovesick Lorca is meant to be the more grounded and serious of the duo, but ends up simply being dull.

In fact, the film as a whole suffers from a languid blandness that seems at odds with the extremes and passion of its subjects: Dali and Bunnel were to generate huge controversy with their ground-breaking work and antics, while Lorca was prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.

Little Ashes reminded me of one of those polite British homoerotic period art films, along the lines of Another Country. If not for the accents of its actors, you might even forget that it’s set in Spain. Apart from one intense and very dark scene involving Lorca making love to a woman as Dali watches, the film is missing substance and emotional truth. It also is quite limited in its scope, perhaps in part due to a relatively small budget.

As a pleasant coming of age gay love story, Little Ashes has its merits. But so much more could have been done to take the dynamic energy of its fascinating subjects and put it up on the screen. It ultimately doesn’t challenge and doesn’t provoke. Little Ashes falters because of a distinct lack of ambition.

Little Ashes is screened as part of Cinema Nouveau’s Take Pride Month until 5 November at cinemas nationwide.

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