Little Ashes

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Director: Paul Morrison; Release date: 8 May

Paul Morrison's Little Ashes explores the relationship between three young artists sharing rooms in the student halls of residence in Madrid University. Their stories would turn out very differently, but their meeting was significant.

In 1922, when the film begins, Luis Buñuel, Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali shared a Bohemian student life in the Spanish capital. It was still a heavily Catholic and repressive society, where the extravagant homosexuality and theatrical antics of these young men provoked the rage of polite society.

They were very different. Buñuel, as the film shows, was a machista who railed against gays, even though his two closest friends were obviously falling in love. Exiled after the Spanish Civil War, Buñuel moved to Mexico and became an outstanding director of films such as Los Olvidados - a portrait of street life in Mexico City - and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - a savage portrait of the middle class.

But in Madrid, with Lorca and Dali, he was just discovering surrealism. The film he made with Dali, Un Chien Andalou, was an early masterpiece of surreal filmmaking. Salvador Dali arrived from provincial Catalonia, a young and promising painter dedicated to making himself a focus of public attention. He was a fine artist, but much of his work seemed to be obsessed with his own sexual insecurity.

The way Little Ashes portrays him, though, presents him as hysterical and slightly ridiculous. It's easy enough to understand why he should have fallen in love with Lorca, the young poet and playwright who was also an accomplished pianist working at the time with the composer De Falla to rediscover Spanish folk music.

Lorca would later become Spain's major poet, moving from the simple rhymes of youth to the dark surrealist songs of The Poet in New York which are riven with sexual tension. Lorca's best known work, though, stems from the time after he returned to Spain at the beginning of the Republican period. His great tragedies of rural Spain, like The House of Bernarda Alba, as well as his poems based on folk songs and traditional ballads, are a celebration of what he called "deep Spain".

The film, however, is concerned with the love between Dali and Lorca. It is often beautiful to watch, and the music is elegant and lyrical. The image of the two young men swimming in the Mediterranean near Cadaqués, where Dali had invited Lorca to spend the summer, is evocative. Yet the relationship was never consummated, probably because Dali could not cope with his own sexuality; all he can do is watch and masturbate while his friend makes love to a woman.

While the fine Javier Beltràn's playing of Lorca is convincing, Robert Pattison's Dali is not. There seems to be little beyond the images which might help us to explore the relationship between the two men, still less the influence upon them of the world in which they lived.

We leap from the carefree and self-indulgent world of the early 1930s to the eve of civil war. By then Lorca, dressed in overalls, speaks for the new republic. Dali meanwhile has married his muse, Gala, and lives in a kind of twilight baroque world buried in dreams of his own importance. Eventually Dali would support Franco. Lorca, for his part, was murdered by fascist thugs near Granada - because he was gay and because he was a socialist. The deeper causes, however, do not rate a mention in this strangely trivial film.