Pattinson goes from dopey ‘Twilight’ to arty gay romance with ‘Ashes’
Maybe it’s the artsy queen in me, but I have always been fascinated by the real-life intersection of diverse, great artists hanging out with one another before they became great: The Romantic poets (Byron, Shelley, Keats) in Italy in the 1810s; the Lost Generation of American ex-pats living in Paris in the 1920s (Hemingway, Pound, Fitzgerald); the Algonquin Round Table. There have been movies made about these cliques with varying degrees of success, but they all share one common element: An interest in understanding how inspiration is cultivated and shaped by those around us.
So I’m usually inclined to cut a little slack to any filmmaker brazen enough to think there’s commercial appeal in the cerebral exploration of passion, even when they do tart it up with nudity and sex scenes.
There is probably less commercial risk when you have the fortuity of casting Robert Pattinson, the inexplicably dreamy heartthrob from last year’s worst big hit, "Twilight," in the key role of Salvador Dali. He’s even naked in it. With another man.
Ah. Commercial toilet again.
Hopefully not. Does "Little Ashes" look a little too much like Merchant Ivory without the Ivory? Maybe. There are tons of visual clichÃ©s: Well-dressed men in suits lying incongruously by the sea, silent boat rides that evolve into burgeoning romance to languorous music, coy shots of body parts touching sensuously. Seen it all before? Sure … just usually with members of the opposite sex ("Maurice" and "Brideshead Revisited" notwithstanding).
In this case, the protagonists are Dali, the gay Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran) and their friend, homophobic film director Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty). What a trifecta of weird talent! Just the thought of them hanging out together in Madrid or Paris, occasionally bumping uglies, fuels the imagination.
Pattinson’s style of embodying incipient sexual longing feels hamfisted — he overplays the flamboyance of Dali with actorly gulps and quivers — but there’s real chemistry between him and Beltran, and the beautifully appointed scenery and costumes have a retro-glam look that evokes the era.
And then there’s the hook, the confluence of artists who feed (and feed off) one another, creating brilliant paintings and films, poetry and revolution. If it plays out too slowly with a veddy British reserve, you can forgive it — at least someone’s out there trying.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2009.