‘Strange Way Of Life’ Review: Pedro Almodovar’s Short Is Homage To Classic Westerns, But With A Gay Twist Courtesy Of Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal

‘Strange Way Of Life’ Review: Pedro Almodovar’s Short Is Homage To Classic Westerns, But With A Gay Twist Courtesy Of Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal

May 17, 2023

The great Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is a rabid fan of the western genre but until now had never made one, and also has only dabbled in directing any english language film with the exception of the 2020 short, The Human Voice that starred Tilda Swinton. His latest movie is also a short, just 31 minutes, but he finally got to do his western in english, and it is a nice homage to the form and those great directors who made it that way, one it is safe to say could only have come from this master of cinema, and a true cineaste himself. Almodovar brought the finished product to its World Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival today and, if flattered by the attention, the ghosts of John Ford, Howard Hawks, John Sturges, Anthony Mann, Raoul Walsh , and Sam Peckinpah may be surprised at the twist in Strange Way Of Life that this 73 year old fanboy has given it.

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That is because though the work of those directors is liberally addressed and tributed in different ways, the plot here is something you would never find in any of their classics. Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal play one time lovers who are reunited for a night of passion and sex after not having seen each other in 25 years. Hawke plays Sheriff Jake, who was once a hired gunfighter along with Mexican-born Silva (Pascal) who has tracked him down. At one time they wanted to just fade into the sunset together on the same ranch, but that dream never materialized and they went their separate ways. After all this time, while on a specific mission, he stops by for a visit with his old friend, both now in their 50’s, for an evening that turns from dinner and catching up to lovemaking. When morning comes Jake’s demeanor has noticeably changed and suddenly he is back to business, this being a search to bring in someone thought to be Silva’s son, Joe (George Steane) wanted for murder. Although Silva tries, Jake cannot be talked out of tracking him down to do the job. The conflict grows tense when Joe turns up at dad’s place.

Almodovar once toyed with the idea of making his english language feature debut with an adaptation of Brokeback Mountain, but couldn’t come to terms with the vision he felt was needed for that movie, one that he does not consider to be a western since the two gay male lovers were actually shepherds, not cowboys. That is why he feels, probably rightly, this short, though clearly baked with a love for the proud past of westerns, particularly the Hollywood kind, is revolutionary in its own quiet way. Though tasteful, the sex really isn’t seen except in a brief but steamy flashback to when both were much younger (played by Jose Condessa and Jason Fernandez), but the aftermath certainly is and that is what is important to Almodovar in telling this story which is largely dialogue-driven, showing why they grew apart, but also clearly why they were made for each other. Hawke , steely and cool , and Pascal, open and warm are actually polar opposites but that is what makes it work as well as it does. Both actors, in just a half hour, bring authenticity and a believable lived-in feel to their characters and this relationship. Almodovar doesn’t need to spend a lot of time with exposition. It is there with their body language. He wastes no time bringing them together and this is their show, despite brief appearances by a supporting cast that also includes a singer (Manu Rios) who sets the tone (he is dubbed by Caetano Veloso’s haunting voice), and a trio of prostitutes right out of Hawks’ El Dorado, just one of the many westerns that inspired bits and pieces of Strange Way Of Life. Hey this is an Almodovar film folks – you have to work women in somewhere, right? Hawke and Pascal are so good you easily could see both of them could have been hired for a slew of westerns in the 50’s and 60’s. How about a remake of 1962’s Ride The High Country, the Peckinpah early western with aging cowboys Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott? For some reason I kept thinking of that while watching this.

Shout out to the lilting musical score of Almodovar regular Alberto Iglesias, who though this was all shot in Almeira Spain (Sergio Leone country), he smartly does not try to imitate Ennio Morricone. The music helps set the nostalgic and emotional tone of the film, as does the production design and costumes (there is a direct homage to James Stewart in Mann’s Bend Of The River to look out for).

Almodovar isn’t setting out to rewrite the rules of westerns with this, but he is adding a new chapter that somehow feels just right, in no small part to his two leads. Augustin Almodovar produced.

Title: Strange Way Of Life

Festival: Special Screenings – Cannes Film Festival

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Director/Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Pedro Pascal

Running Time: 31 minutes

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