Strange Way of Life may be a short, but by no means is it bite-sized in any way. It has everything you would anticipate in a Pedro Almodóvar film: melodrama, bold design, and impossibly beautiful actors playing characters burdened by long-held secrets from their pasts. What’s different and especially exciting about this film is not just the fact that it’s a Western — a first for the Spanish director — but, more importantly, how Almodóvar utilizes conventions of the genre to turn them on their head. The result is a sizzling short that forges its own path in the Old West.
Starring Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke, Strange Way of Life finds Silva (Pascal), a rancher, traversing the desert to see Sheriff Jake (Hawke), an old friend and lover he hasn’t seen in 25 years. Though their reunion stokes the embers of old feelings in both men, their euphoria is short-lived. It’s no coincidence that Silva has returned after Jake ordered the arrest of his son Joe (George Steane) for murder, and as the past and present collide, the pair finds themselves in a violent stand-off that could change their lives forever.
The Old West Like We Haven’t Seen Before
Saint Laurent Productions
At first glance, Strange Way of Life might seem like an out-of-left-field choice for Almodóvar. In fact, when development of the film was first announced in June 2022 (via Variety), folks around the world were as surprised as they were intrigued. After all, a director like Almodóvar, who has built his career telling stories predominantly about complicated women and tortured gay men, isn’t necessarily the first who comes to mind when one thinks about “the classic Western” movie, especially when one considers how steeped in toxic masculinity the genre has historically been. And yet, it’s precisely the unexpected-ness of it all that makes this film exceptional.
Simply put: Strange Way of Life unearths a different side of the Old West that we have rarely been able to see in the genre’s history — which is, of course, a good thing. On a visual level, the designs are bolder and more colorful than typical Western movie fare. There is, for instance, a flamboyance to Jake’s home — deep red curtains, maximalist decor, an overabundance of romantic candlelight — that serves as a great visual contrast to the austerity of the desert we see him riding through on horseback later on. It effectively underscores how Jake has lived his life up to this point: to the outside world, he’s the sheriff, rough around the edges but still the tough guy through-and-through, but, on the inside, he’s a completely different person.
Of Strange Way of Life’s other design elements, utmost praise should go to Anthony Vaccarello for the beautiful costumes. Incidentally, Vaccarello is the head designer of the luxury brand, Yves Saint Laurent, which, in turn, serves as the film’s co-producing company. Indeed, there’s something to be said about a fashion house like YSL dressing a Western film, and, really, it can all be boiled down to Silva’s green jacket. Soft yet rugged, and notably sticking out against the red hues and warmer tones of the film’s palette, the jacket is effectively emblematic of the film as a whole: it dares to draw attention to itself, at once fulfilling convention and subverting expectation.
A Spiritual Sequel to Brokeback Mountain
Saint Laurent Productions
It’s almost impossible not to think about Brokeback Mountain while watching Strange Way of Life. Two decades ago, per The New Yorker, Almodóvar turned down the opportunity to direct Brokeback Mountain, citing that the political climate of the time would not have allowed him to tell the queer love story he wanted. Nevertheless, the film would go on to be directed by Ang Lee and become perhaps the most famous queer Western of modern times and a groundbreaking LGBTQ+ movie.
Interestingly, in both films, each couple contemplates what kind of life two men could have together living on a ranch, and while Brokeback Mountain only gesticulates at the question such a life, Strange Way of Life offers an actual answer. In this way, it’s not hard to view Almodóvar’s movie about middle-aged gays in the west as a sort of spiritual sequel to and progression of Lee’s film. Which makes sense: Brokeback Mountain, as great as it is, is a product of its time, and thus viewed its queer themes with a very narrow lens. In Strange Way of Life, however, Silva and Jake aren’t afraid of themselves in the way Jack and Ennis (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, respectively) were, and therefore end in a different place than Lee’s star-crossed lovers.
No, Silva and Jake aren’t exactly waving the Pride flag, but, to Almodóvar’s credit, his leads don’t speak in code about their desire for each other, aren’t in denial about what they feel, and, more importantly, make space for vulnerability when discussing their history. In their post-coital exchange, for example, the walls come down and truths come to light, and both Silva and Jake radiate a complicated mix of lust, anger, ecstasy, and heartache as they each reveal what they want from each other. Here, Pascal and Hawke’s chemistry absolutely sizzles, and both actors turn in top-notch performances of life-beaten and love-sick men.
In his signature style, Almodóvar carves deeply human and complex characters in an emotionally-charged story, which is especially refreshing to see in a genre that has traditionally seen its male characters portrayed as stoic, sometimes even nameless, and verging on the unfeeling. This, of course, doesn’t mean that Strange Way of Life completely abandons the genre’s formalities: like the Westerns that have come before it, the film offers its share of dirt and denim, brute force and fist-fighting, and a nerve-wracking stand-off. It plays by the classic genre’s rules, for sure, but it ultimately suggests that there’s still storytelling territory waiting to be explored.
Strange Way of Life releases in select theaters October 6 from Sony Pictures Classics. You can watch the trailer below:
You can view the original article HERE.