It makes perfect sense that a writer/director who adores heightened emotion would be drawn to the Western. At first, one might argue that the genre is more about subdued masculinity than the typical Pedro Almodóvar brand of filmmaking, but there’s also a deep undercurrent of melodrama and enhanced stakes that are inherent to this genre. Furtive glances, breathless proclamations, intense close-ups—Almodóvar fits here (although he’s such an immense talent, one could argue he fits everywhere). And when one factors in the fact that Almodóvar was once attached to “Brokeback Mountain,” the existence of “Strange Way of Life” makes even more sense. He has proclaimed that he was attracted to the physicality of Annie Proulx’s novel but felt that he couldn’t capture that in a Hollywood production and that the Oscar-winning film missed that aspect of the storytelling, despite a deep admiration for what Ang Lee was able to accomplish. He has called his own two-hander Western “Strange Way of Life” an “answer” to that film, and it’s a pretty good one.
Without spoiling anything, the final scene of this 31-minute film really clarifies its purpose: the story of a man who couldn’t envision a domestic life with another man, even if that man might be his soulmate. “Strange Way of Life” exudes the confidence we’ve come to expect from Almodóvar, even if it ultimately feels like this is the first act of a richer, more complex feature film. However, there’s something beautiful about this short's brevity, a sense that we can fill in what happens next or how this could have been fleshed out to be a longer piece.
That imaginary feature probably starts 25 years before Silva (Pedro Pascal) rides back into the town where Jake (Ethan Hawke) is now the Sheriff. From the minute they’re reunited, there’s the sense that these two very different men once weren’t so different. While Silva remains open and vulnerable, Jake is bitter and hardened by life, as if Silva’s exit from his life took all chances of happiness with him. It’s revealed that not only were Silva and Jake once lovers, but Silva hasn’t returned merely to rekindle the affair. Silva’s son Joe (George Steane) is wanted for murder by Sheriff Jake, leading to a conflict wherein Jake may have to choose between getting his suspect or taking this one last chance for happiness. And what’s Silva’s real intention? Is he bedding Jake again so he doesn’t bring the hammer of the law down on Joe?
“Strange Way of Life” was produced by Saint Laurent Productions, which gives some of this piece, especially a flashback to a young Joe and Silva getting frisky under some spilling wine barrels, the sense that this is a fashion advertisement as much as it is a movie. However, Pascal and Hawke counter the vibrant colors that one would expect with “Almodóvar and Saint Laurent.” They ground the short with an appropriately surly performance from Hawke and a gentle one from Pascal. It also helps to have a notable pedigree alongside Almodóvar that includes luscious cinematography from José Luis Alcaine (“Volver,” “The Skin I Live In”) and a beautiful score from another regular collaborator, the great Alberto Iglesias.
“Strange Way of Life” is being given a limited theatrical release with Almodóvar’s 2020 short “The Human Voice,” which stars Tilda Swinton. That marked Almodóvar’s first English-language production, and it's almost like he’s been warming up for the potential of a full film in English with “The Human Voice” and now “Strange Way of Life.” Almodóvar has been a master for generations now, and has reached a point where everything he does is worth a look. Whatever the language, genre, or run-time, Almodóvar brings cinema to life.
In theaters Friday.
Strange Way of Life (2023)
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