Tales of remarkable college friendships are nothing new, neither are love triangles. Yet many of them pale when compared to what happened at Madrid’s Student Residence in the early 1920s. There, a young freshman named Salvador Dali met upper classmen Luis Bunuel and Frederico Garcia Lorca.
Little Ashes tells of this incredible intersection that would profoundly shook their respective artistic disciplines. Directed by independent film veteran and Oscar nominee Paul Morrison (Solomon and Gaenor), and the first work of writer Phillipa Goslett, it grabs one’s attention from opening shot to stunning ending.
Beginning in 1922, Bunuel (Matthew McNulty), Dali (Robert Pattison…best known as Edmund of Twilight) and Lorca (Javier Beltran) troll the ancient grottos of Madrid and rural plains of Southern Spain dancing to the latest hot jazz.
What we also see is this triangle develops into an intense rivalry for Dali. Lorca is half out of the closet at the beginning of the film. Dali is a proud virgin. McNulty plays Bunuel with a particularly Spanish manner of hetero bravado, and his homophobia become more pronounced as the film progresses. Yet there’s something deeper going down as his two companions start a mad dance around each other.
The true denouement of the movie is as outrageous as Dali becomes, there are certain boundaries he will not cross. The film, in turn, becomes an epic historical piece of unrequited love, especially after Bunuel convinces Dali to move to Paris. There Dali meets his Gala, and Lorca hits the heights of his poetic powers while at the same time one can see he won’t be on the planet much longer...and he might not care.
Whether one wants to say the film is about one man’s jealousy of two others, another’s inability to cross one last boundary or the last’s forcing an issue and scaring off his beloved, Morrison and Goslett leave those machinations to the viewer. Little Ashes is a better film for it.
Even more remarkable is how Morrison managed to assemble one incredible sequence to the next. Whether it’s by the Andalusian or Cadaques ocean fronts, the grottos of Madrid or the rural woods of Spain, he manages to capture the conflict of the modern shaking down the millennia-old ramparts of Catalonian culture in the early 20th Century. In this sense, a DVD is a superlative medium for the movie as scene after scene demands multiple viewing if only to fully appreciate all the detail the director has hidden in the film’s shadows.
The film features incredible performances out of his three main actors, but also high on this list is Marina Gatell as a woman in love with Lorca. It’s a sympathetic, tragic role remarkable its mirroring the Lorca/Dali relationship.
Hopefully getting this movie out on DVD will bring broader awareness to it.