Love In The Time Of Lorca
By Michael Martin
A chronicler of unspeakable desire who has attracted a legion of pop culture acolytes, like too many gay artists from his era Federico Garc'a Lorca was martyred, murdered at the age of 38 in 1936. As the subject of the new film Little Ashes, the Spanish poet and playwright is due for a resurrection and reappraisal. The film is also a high-profile coming-out of sorts for Javier Beltr'n, the 27-year-old Spanish actor who plays him. 'For a Spanish actor it's a really big and important role,' says Beltr'n. 'Lorca is the most important poet in our history.'
Sweepingly romantic and darkly melancholic, Lorca's poetry was filled with vivid images of nature and frequent references to death. His plays tackled thwarted passions and unrequited longing, with a gay subtext barely beneath the surface: Mariposa concerned the ill-fated love between a cockroach and a butterfly; Blood Wedding dealt with a mother in love with her daughter's fianc' and ended in murder; The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife was a comedy about extramarital flirtation and fantasy (very risqu' for 1926). 'He's certainly one of the greatest 20th-century poets and playwrights,' says Little Ashes director Paul Morrison. 'In Spain, after Cervantes he's number 1. His plays still seem modern, absolutely alive. They're like Shakespeare in that they're very open to interpretation.'
Little Ashes is decidedly focused on Lorca's sexually and romantically pivotal years at university following his middle-class agrarian childhood on the pampas of Spain. He attended the famed Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, where he met fellow students Salvador Dal' and filmmaker Luis Bu'uel. Lorca and Dal' developed a close friendship, which blossomed into an intense flirtation, then a frustrated affair. 'They saw themselves as [mythical heroes] Castor and Pollux,' says Little Ashes screenwriter Philippa Goslett, 'twin souls with an innate and complete understanding of each other -- intellectually, artistically, and emotionally.'
'If you read Lorca's poems, you can see he loves Dal', and a lot of Dal's paintings have Lorca in them,' explains Beltr'n. 'Lorca was in love with Dal' -- but I don't know if Dal' really loved Lorca.'
To get into character Beltr'n studied Lorca's poetry and how it connected to his life story. 'He was very passionate,' he says. 'To be a homosexual in his time in Spain was to be sick. He didn't speak about homosexuality, but death and sexuality are always present in his poems. I tried to show that in my work on the film.'
Little Ashes also stars Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame as Dal'. 'I didn't really know him from the Harry Potter movies,' says Morrison. 'And then he came and did this reading, and he was so lovely and vulnerable and smart in the way Dal' was. If he played Dal' like the caricature we're familiar with, nobody would care that Lorca was falling in love with him. You'd want to say to him, 'Get the hell out of this relationship -- this guy is trouble.' But Robert manages to make this guy really interesting from the start.'