Spain, 1922. Political repression and moral conservatism pervade. But as the opening titles of Little Ashes inform us, "a breeze is stirring through the land."
It's a breeze that the artsy whippersnappers Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí and Federico García Lorca are determined to catch - letting it muss their hair and ripple o'er their espressos.
Great art will come of it.
And a not-so-great movie, too.
The "untold" story of the fleeting love affair between Lorca, the revered Spanish poet, and Dalí, the surrealist painter, as university students in Madrid, Little Ashes is a bravely earnest and gauzy bit of biography.
Chapter One: meet cute. Chapter Two: steal a kiss while skinny-dipping. Chapter Three: death by firing squad for one, cultural celebrity for the other.
Directed by Paul Morrison (Oscar-nominated for his 1999 Welsh-Jewish love story, Solomon and Gaenor), with a script by Philippa Goslett, Little Ashes is perhaps most noteworthy - and marketable - for the participation of Robert Pattinson. The moody, lunar-pale vampire boy of Twilight stars as Dalí, who arrives at the university with a Prince Valiant coif, a dandy's wardrobe, and a book by Freud to demonstrate his rebelliousness. Later, Pattinson sports that wild curlicue mustache.
It doesn't take long for Buñuel (Matthew McNulty), Lorca (Javier Beltrán) and a cadre of mildly debauched bohos to embrace the narcissistic Dalí. Boozy declarations about art and knowledge and wild menages ensue.
Little Ashes - with its English-speaking cast adopting susurrous Spanish accents - has its grace notes. And Morrison dares to throw Buñuel's "Un Chien Andalou" into the mix (and onto the screen), giving the famous experimental short a context heretofore unknown to most viewers. The Spanish actress Marina Gatell is exotic and engaging as a young writer drawn to Lorca and puzzled why he is not drawn to her in return.