A look at the life of Alfred Kinsey (Neeson), a pioneer in the area of human sexuality research, whose 1948 publication "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" was one of the first recorded works that saw science address sexual behavior.
In 1922, Madrid is wavering on the edge of change as traditional values are challenged by the dangerous new influences of Jazz, Freud and the avant-garde. Salvador Dali arrives at the university; 18 years old and determined to become a great artist. His bizarre blend of shyness and rampant exhibitionism attracts the attention of two of the university's social elite - Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunel. Salvador is absorbed into their youthfully decadent group and for a time Salvador, Luis and Federico become a formidable trio, the most ultra-modern group in Madrid. However as time passes, Salvador feels and increasingly strong pull towards the charismatic Federico - who is himself oblivious of the attentions he is getting from his beautiful writer friend, Magdalena. In the face of his friends' preoccupations - and Federico's growing renown as a poet - Luis sets off for Paris in search of his own artistic success. Federico and Salvador spend the holiday in the sea-side town of ... Written by
An intelligent, poetic film that could've been much better.
It's satisfying and revealing for us to read our favorite authors, to see our favorite paintings and to watch those movies of old which have touched our hearts...and then, once we read an autobiography or watch a biopic about their creators, they make so much more sense and acquire an ever deeper brilliance to them because we can FEEL their emotions and because we know WHY they created such marvelous pieces of art. Watching Paul Morrison's remarkably powerful "Little Ashes", I feel like I'm never going to read Federico García Lorca, I'm never going to appreciate Salvador Dalí and I'm never going to see Luis Buñuel under the same light ever again. Morrison's film gives us that special kind of enlightenment, and it transports us to a different age in such a way that, once it's over, we feel trapped in between our present day and a tempestuously romantic afternoon in 1922.
"Little Ashes" takes place in 1922 Spain, when the country was under the violent regime of the Guerilla, and when the church and the government forced a conservative attitude on life, art and sex. Revolution was beginning to be whispered in the dark corners of universities and Bohemian bars, and it is here where we find Federico García Lorca (Javier Beltrán), an eager student who writes beautiful poems but who seeks betterment. We also find his best friend Luis Buñuel (Matthew McNulty), a revolutionary cinephile who gains the inspiration for his short films from the disturbing situation in Spain. These are nice young men who live the life of students and artists, happily bashing at the government but always remaining within their boundaries. But along comes Salvador Dalí (Robert Pattinson), a quirky young painter who dreams of becoming the greatest painter of Spain and who constantly challenges social boundaries and incites freedom of expression. García Lorca and Buñuel become instant friends with Dalí, but from the first moment they meet, García Lorca and Dalí are joined together by an unbearable attraction...which they must keep hidden, especially from their mutual friend Buñuel who hates homosexuals and from the rest of their society who could threaten their lives.
The film constantly mixes and entwines different subjects: the tense, suffocating love between García Lorca and Dalí, their complicated relationship with Buñuel, the political situation of the country and their artistic flashes of genius. We get to a point where we don't know whether the action and dialogue on screen pertains to a political or romantic subject. These three men are geniuses, and they all have a complicated personality that constantly clashes with each other's art and political views. This is remarkable- the mélange of subjects and points of view. It makes the viewer a spectator of the historical drama that surrounded the characters, and it floods us with information and emotions which don't make us biased towards a specific character. It's not that kind of film where you either love or hate the heroes and villains; everyone is both a sweetheart and a monster, everything has a good side and a bad one to it. It's up to us, the viewers, to take sides and analyze whom and what we sympathize with.
The film is poetic, in every sense of the word. García Lorca reads his poems in various scenes, other scenes feature sweeping takes of a mesmerizing landscape with sublime music, other scenes feature deep and intelligent dialogue that could never be understood without a profound look into the characters' souls. That's another thing I loved about the film- the fact that it feeds you raw art, raw emotion and it's up to you to make sense of it all. This is a film to be analyzed, pondered and savored in your entrails. Anything less than that, and you're bound to lose track of some things. The characters never say or express what they feel, but resort to beautiful (yet complicated) poems, surrealist paintings or obscure films to hint at the reason behind their actions. We, the audience, take it all in, bask in their art, and weigh everything.
The film is executed with a quiet finesse, with sublime tenderness. It gives you facts little by little, it gives you time to explore each character, it gives you pieces of their artistic work, and you begin to finally understand what everything means. The actors deliver fine performances (with the special mention of Robert Pattinson who managed to capture Dalí almost perfectly, and who's inspired in his portrayal), the directing flows like undisturbed water, the writing is perfect and the overall production has little to be disliked.
But there is a slight flaw: there are moments of extreme tension, when the mood and the topic of the film have reached such nerve-wrecking heights and the film, in its attempt to keep up with the pace, cuts off the tension. Notice the scene where García Lorca, Dalí and Magdalena, a friend of theirs, are alone in their dorm room and the two men have had a bitter discussion; this is one of the most disturbing scenes in the film, and there isn't a follow up to the emotions exposed therein. Or notice a poignant scene, where Dalí and García Lorca are swimming; it's perfectly executed, but the next scene abruptly cuts the overall feeling the one before had created. Nevertheless, like I said before, it's a SLIGHT flaw, and the rest of the film rewards us and redeems our viewing experience.
This movie is based on actual characters, actual facts, and is inspired by written documents attesting to the majority of events, but great artistic liberty has also been used to add drama and romance. It had all the elements to make it a potential timeless masterpiece, but it remains at the level of a 'pretty good film.' Interesting to watch, enlightening, satisfying...but not as moving as I thought it would be.
Rating: 3 stars out of 4!
11 of 14 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?