Almodóvar reached a point in his life in which he can film any project that he desires. He proved so with his previous short film, and his first project in the English language, The Human Voice (based upon material by Jean Cocteau), which had an internationally renowned ––non-Spanish–– actress such as Tilda Swinton in the lead. A rather bombastic short film, in the same way as the new one, Strange Way of Life, with which he uses a rather outlined and bounded structure, as well as an editing pace of piercing rhythms. A gay western.
Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal portray Jake and Silva, two cowboys who met 25 years ago and held an attraction/relationship that changed both their lives. After a long time of being distanced, one day Silva arrives at Bitter Creek, town where Jake is sheriff. It turns out Jake’s sister-in-law has been killed and the main suspect of that murder is Silva’s son, Joe (George Steane), therefore laying down the suspicion about the reasons of Silva’s particular visit. Is it a merely sentimental reunion or for the simple fact of pleading for his son’s life? Although it is said that guns are loaded by the devil, it comes a moment where, in an homage to John Woo, all three characters conform a triangle where all point at each other.
Between pillow talks, Jake’s disruption and an unhinged love encounter, the protagonists wake up the morning after to make the bed, borrow some underwear and talk about whatever happened to them in their lives, deciphering the whys of their reunion and even make room for discussion. Something between them was left unfinished.
Jake is very proficient with guns, but according to Silva, one day he failed, as he continued to fail in other aspects of his life. Right after this, comes a flashback that shows the initial point of attraction that bound them so long ago. A situation that perhaps gets out of hand ––perhaps the lowest point in the short film–– by lingering at showing something already suggested and made evident. But on the other hand, is not Almodóvar an example on excesses when it comes to film structures and colors?
Almodóvar attempts to use aspects from classical westerns. A lot has been talked about this film being an answer to Brokeback Mountain. According to his own words, he was based on Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog and on the westerns by Chloé Zhao and Kelly Reichardt. Here we have perhaps a difference between what Almodóvar “says” and what he otherwise “shows”. Not everything a filmmaker lays down on a film is what later he claims to be when giving an interview. The short film is a Technicolor pastiche, with many valuable aspects from classical westerns. It has rhythm, it has conflict and it is resolved very well. But from there to be “an example of a gay western” as if The Power of the Dog was such a thing, is to make a mistake.
Strange Way of Life has the distinct trait of making you excited about what you are seeing, and when you want to see more, Alberto Iglesias’ score kicks in and the film ends.
Director, Screenwriter: Pedro Almodóvar. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Pedro Pascal, Manu Ríos, José Condessa, Jason Fernández, Pedro Casablanc, Daniel Rived. Producers: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García. Running Time: 31 minutes.