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Robert Pattinson shows acting chops as Salvador Dali in 'Little Ashes'

Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame takes a turn as Dali in Little Ashes.

Regent Releasing

Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame takes a turn as Dali in Little Ashes.

Little Ashes (R) (112 min.) — The prospect of another movie starring Twilight's teen dream vampire Robert Pattinson must thrill his gushing fans. Especially when they learn that he's flashing skin and dreamily romancing another lover.

But are they ready to discover that Pattinson is playing artistic genius Salvador Dali in a hoity-toity indie flick, and the object of his desire is another man?

I wasn't, since Pattinson's listlessness in Twilight made me wonder if he'd ever be honestly classified as an actor. Dali is an icon, as flamboyantly complex as Edward Cullen is sullen. Pattinson hadn't convinced me that he had the chops to tackle such a role.

The jury is still out after seeing Little Ashes but evidence leans toward his favor. At least Pattinson displays ambition to be more than just a poseur pop star.

Paul Morrison's movie is a speculative portrait of three artists: Dali, poet Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran) and filmmaker Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty), students in 1922 at a Madrid academy of fine arts. Their avocations defy the day's politics, a wave of fascism suffocating idealistic expression and homoerotic urges that Dali and Lorca share. Being an artist is revolutionary. Being a gay or bisexual artist is dangerous.

Pattinson is an attention grabber from his first appearance as a foppish lad, socially awkward and undeniably talented, proffering a bold style of surrealism on canvas. Gradually he gains confidence, brashly manifested in odd clothing and bold pronouncements of self-greatness. Later, as Dali begins a descent into madness, Pattinson's performance takes on a buffoonish air; he doesn't wear Dali's trademark upturned mustache, it wears him.

But in between, Pattinson's perverse charisma can make viewers forget that Little Ashes is actually more about Lorca. Beltran's accent is occasionally impenetrable yet his grip on the poet's sexually conflicted personality is firm. When Dali and Bunuel go to Paris to create avant-garde cinema, Lorca shelves desire and becomes a lyrical dissident. When Dali returns, it is with surprises sending Lorca into a bitter, tragic spiral.

Little Ashes is an outline of history couched in erotic guesswork since Dali kept his relationship with Lorca private until late in life, and then spoke cryptically about it. Screenwriter Philippa Goslett takes intriguing liberties, like Lorca losing his virginity to a classmate (Marina Gatell) while Dali serves as voyeur, or at the men's moonlight swim ballet leading to a first kiss.

I'd like to sit in Tampa Theatre when such scenes occur, to hear the reactions of Twilighters in the audience to their idol's provocative detour. Once past the initial shock, they'll discover traces of talent that Stephenie Meyers' vampire yarns have no possibility of mining. Somebody, please, rescue this guy from pop stardom before it's too late.

This weekend's 7:30 p.m. screenings of Little Ashes will be introduced and followed with comments by officers of St. Petersburg's Salvador Dali Museum. Read the accompanying interview with one of them, museum director Dr. Hank Hine. B

Robert Pattinson shows acting chops as Salvador Dali in 'Little Ashes' 05/13/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 4:30am]
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