Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke in Pedro Almodóvar's Strange Way of Life
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘Strange Way of Life’ Review: Pedro Almodóvar’s Gay Western Short Leaves You Craving For More

‘Strange Way of Life’ Review: Pedro Almodóvar’s Gay Western Short Leaves You Craving For More

Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke in Pedro Almodóvar's Strange Way of Life

It’s no secret that Pedro Almodóvar flirted with the idea of ​​directing “Brokeback Mountain” in the early 2000s, the passionate Spanish auteur understandably convinced that Annie Proulx’s gay cowboy drama would make an ideal English-language debut. He ultimately walked away from the project (as he recently explained to IndieWire), believing his take on the material would be more carnal and shameless than Hollywood was willing to accept.

Almost 20 years later, Almodóvar is Still trying to break through the language barrier and make an ‘American’ feature of some sort, but the 30-minute ‘Strange Way of Life’ – his second English-language short – finds him desperately trying to make up for lost time.

Tantalizing to watch while boasting all the staying power of a stray tumbleweed, this chatty little Western reflects on the repressiveness of its genre while extracting a rich vein of conflict from the mutual acrimony shared by its two leads, who once dreamed of a life together. only to let that dream slip through their fingers because they didn’t have the ability to imagine it embodied. There was no pattern to follow, no direction to that particular corner of the American frontier.

Now, thanks to some wealthy friends at YSL (whose Anthony Vaccarello designed the film’s costumes), the fleeting but predictably thriving “Strange Way of Life” allows Almodóvar to offer his cowboys the opportunity Jack Twist and Ennis of the Mar they never had – and to enjoy the opportunity they never got to give the director in return.

It won’t be easy, even if “Strange Way of Life” opens with a literal model (Manu Rios) who draws his estranged characters together with a song. Both men in this film are very bitter about what got away – perhaps not unlike Almodóvar himself – and both keep their long-frustrated longing locked away in a holster of ulterior motives. When they reunite at the aptly named desert outpost of Bitter Creek (actually the Spanish city of Almeria, where Sergio Leone filmed the iconic spaghetti westerns that Almodóvar does his best to ignore), it turns out that both men have the trigger more itchy than they might want to admit.

A seemingly carefree rancher played by a grinning Pedro Pascal (serving a movie star worthy about-face from his tortured job in “The Last of Us”), Silva heads towards the local sheriff in cold blood the moment Bitter arrives Creek (a surly, grumpy Ethan Hawke embodies the lawman with enough jaded aplomb to make you wish this film gave him a lot more runway). The two men initially seem like a mismatched pair, but it’s only a few minutes before they’re drinking hot soup and tearing each other’s butts off. Almodóvar Leaves Most of the Sex to Our Imaginations: What Happens in the Bedroom Above the Sheriff’s Office remains in the bedroom above the sheriff’s office, but Hawke and Pascal still manage to squeeze more warmth and tenderness into a single fade-to-black than “The Power of the Dog” allowed in its entirety. Also, at this point, it might be a bit corny for a transgressive queer pioneer of Almodóvar’s stature to get excited by the sight of two Hollywood stars enjoying homosexual romp, even in a drag western.

Of course, Almodóvar doesn’t so much adapt to the West as he forces the West to adapt to him. All the genre tropes that make their way into “Strange Way of Life,” from the milky-white skylines to Mexican contrasts, serve up the stormy, quintessentially Almodovar-ian emotions that burn in his characters. Lest we forget, Alberto Iglesias’ score is always there to remind you, his swinging strings evoking Hitchcock instead of Ford. Almodóvar said he built this short around the charged conversation Silva and Jake share the morning after their make-up game — which was prompted by the idea of ​​allowing two queer cowboys to express the same emotions Ennis del Mar had to choke down the throat. Even without fuller context, it’s palpably cathartic to see Hawke and Pascal share their characters’ hearts with all the freedom the Wild West promises.

It’s the most thrilling spectacle of any kind in a film that feels a bit muted for something with so little time on its hands, and would be even if it weren’t for its dual nature as a glorified YSL commercial. (The costumes are exquisite, nothing more so than the emerald green jacket Silva borrows from James Stewart’s character in “Bend of the River,” which looks so good that the horse he’s riding seems to dance on the desert sand.) I colors are brilliant. and thrills were matched, but anyone hoping to see Almodóvar’s version of a shootout or a packed saloon might have to settle for a flashback in which Hawke and Pascal’s stunningly beautiful stunt doubles shoot bullet holes into barrels of wine and then they smear each other’s bodies with the ooze.

It’s the kind of scene that only Almodóvar would bring to the Western, and also the kind of scene that “Strange Way of Life” offers all too little. Even knowing the film is only 30 minutes long with credits, its ending still feels unexpectedly abrupt, as Almodóvar leaves us at the precise moment he’s been seeing in his head for the past 20 years. Like everything else in this project, it’s a bit of a tease, but now that it finally exists, there’s no telling what might happen next.

“Strange Way of Life” premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will release it theatrically later this year.

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