In a filmed interview following the Center for Contemporary Arts’ dual screening of shorts Strange Way of Life (2023) and The Human Voice (2020) with director Pedro Almodóvar, the legendary Spanish auteur described a conversation with his fellow filmmakers during which several thought him mad for tackling shorts and trying to get them into cinemas worldwide.
Thankfully, Almodóvar stuck to his guns, because not only is his newest film starring Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke a concise and enjoyable riff on and hybrid of American and Spaghetti Westerns, it might represent a turning point for our expectations of film in general. He says much in its 31 minutes.
Strange Way of Life finds one-time gunslingers/lovers Silva (Pascal) and Jake (Hawke) reuniting after decades apart and now on separate sides of the law. Jake has become a sheriff for a small town (the set was originally built for Sergio Leone movies!), and Silva has ostensibly arrived to reignite their former romance—only it might be more complicated due to a recent murder for which his son is a suspect. At the risk of citing that post-screening interview again, Almodóvar smartly points out during the conversation how Hollywood directors glamorized the cowboy era in its Western canon, all while sidestepping the possibility of things like colorful clothing, multi-dimensional characters and even queer romance while they were at it. Oh, sure, we had Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, but cowboy hats do not a Western make, and...oh wait, is Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog a better example? Either way, Strange Way of Life is in rarified air, and a period flick all the way.
Being a period thing makes the romantic tension smolder even hotter, leaving Silva and Jake to cast glances so emotionally charged that one wonders if they might consume one another if it weren’t for stupid society. Still, viewers won’t find a leering look at brazen sexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but rather a love-gone-awry story with the heavy spectre of queerness in the 1800s hanging low over every exchange. Pascal is in his element here as the fearlessly in-love Silva, while Hawke’s more reserved portrayal of a man navigating emotions as the literal embodiment of the status quo stings deep.
Produced by Saint Laurent (yes, that Saint Laurent), Strange Way of Life continues Almodóvar’s exploration of elder masculinity and love (2019′s Pain and Glory with Antonio Banderas was brilliant and sailed in similar if more fleshed-out waters) set in a time we might as well call the Toxic Masculinity Era. Love knows no bounds, however, even when Silva is forced to make the terrible choice between kin and chosen family. Are there higher stakes?
Author’s note: Stick around after Strange Way of Life for the screening of Almodóvar’s The Human Voice with Tilda Swinton. Based on Jean Cocteau’s 1928 monodrama of the same name, the 30-minute piece is Swinton solo and at the top of her game in a deceptively simple and modernized take on sense-of-self post-breakup.
+Pascal and Hawke are excellent together; short but poignant
-Supporting characters feel inconsequential
Strange Way of Life
Directed by Almodóvar
With Pascal and Hawke
Center for Contemporary Arts, R, 31 min.