Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal are cowboys with history in Pedro Almodovar’s queer Western short
Dir/scr: Pedro Almodovar. Spain. 2023. 31mins
Costumes, production design and other solid analogue craft values have long been among the great pleasures of the Pedro Almodovar canon. But rarely have they eaten up the scenery – and the story – as brazenly as they do in this 31-minute Western short, the first from fashion house Saint Laurent’s new film production company Saint Laurent Productions, which premiered at Cannes in a frenzy of media attention.
There is both passion and tenderness in this lovingly-shot queer Western
Whether it be the green jacket worn by Pedro Pascal’s character Silva as he rides into the town of Bitter Creek or the button-up linen underwear that Ethan Hawke’s Sheriff Jake keeps so beautifully folded in his bachelor digs, the clothes in Strange Way of Life are stars in their own right. But clothes in films follow that most hackneyed of rules: it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it. There’s nothing here that even touches the heartache of the shirts that become the emotional weathervanes of Ang Lee’s similarly-themed Brokeback Mountain. The same goes for the period-appropriate artwork that features on the walls of the main characters’ dwellings, among them a lovely Mexican landscape by Georgia O’Keefe, or Alberto Iglesias’ moody orchestral soundtrack.
Indeed, behind this enticing shop window there’s not a great deal of dramatic stock in this story, which revolves around two former cowboy buddies who long ago shared a fortnight of passion down Mexico way. When, 25 years later, the affable Silva walks into the office of his estranged friend Jake, who has since become a small-town sheriff, they’re only a meat stew away from rekindling the old flame. But Silva turns out to have a hidden agenda; one that involves his ne’er-do-well son Joe (George Steane) and the recent murder of Jake’s sister-in-law.
There is both passion and tenderness in this lovingly-shot queer Western which dares to normalize a gay rapport between two pistoleros. Murmurs and flutters of the transgressive Almodovar we all love and admire come through, especially in a lyrical finale in which love is cemented through the physical wounding of the loved one – a concept echoed in an image of the bleeding heart of Mary on the wall. Yet so much else here is cursory, as if Almodovar’s bleeding heart wasn’t really in it. Silva’s comment that whenever he drinks wine, he remembers that time in Mexico when he and Jake went to a wine cellar with a bunch of ”whores” is followed, as sure as taxes, by a clichéd flashback in which we see exactly that.
Compared to the richness and finesse of the Spanish director’s previous short, Jean Cocteau adaptation The Human Voice, Strange Way of Life feels like a bagatelle. Inventive ways were found to distribute that Tilda Swinton masterclass theatrically: in the States it was paired with the restored Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, while at home in Spain it was released as a standalone at a reduced ticket price. Despite the nice togs and the cachet of Hawke and Pascal – the latter riding high on the success of TV series The Last of Us – the standalone approach may not be as successful here: it’s tough to sell a half-hour film that drags.
Production companies: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, El Deseo Production
International distribution: Sony Pictures Classics
Producer: Agustin Almodovar
Production design: Antxon Gomez
Editing: Teresa Font
Cinematography: Jose Luis Alcaine
Music: Alberto Iglesias
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Pedro Pascal, Pedro Casablanc, Manu Rios, George Steane