Euronews Culture's Film of the Week: 'Strange Way of Life', Pedro Almodóvar’s queer longing Western

Pedro Almodóvar’s short film Strange Way of Life
Pedro Almodóvar’s short film Strange Way of Life Copyright El Deseo - Saint Laurent - Pathé
Copyright El Deseo - Saint Laurent - Pathé
By David Mouriquand
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The American frontier explores queer longing... And has never looked so stylish.


Pedro Almodóvar’s new film, Extraña forma de vida (Strange Way of Life), is a 31-minute queer Western that not only dances in the shadow of Brokeback Mountain, but is the shortest half hour you’ll ever experience inside a cinema.

Why must you tease us so, Pedro?

Set in a desert town near the Mexican border, Strange Way of Life stars Ethan Hawke as Sheriff Jake and Pedro Pascal as rancher Silva, who pays an unexpected visit to his former lover after they parted ways 25 years ago.

Simple enough but, because this is Almodóvar, you can imagine that sex and violence are peeking around the corner. What starts as a reunion between lovers is soon revealed as a visit with purpose: Jake is on the hunt for a killer, and that murdering rascal happens to be Silva’s son Joe (George Steane), whose case Silva is here to plead.

El Deseo - Saint Laurent - Pathé
Ethan Hawke and Pedro PascalEl Deseo - Saint Laurent - Pathé

Short films are such a tricky and fascinating artform. You have to encompass so much in so little time, keeping in mind not only narrative development and resolution, but also the rhythm of the piece and the mood you wish to instil within an economic framework. This isn’t Almodóvar’s first foray into the discipline, as the Spanish maestro treated us to his Jean Cocteau adaptation The Human Voice in 2020, starring Tilda Swinton. His lovingly shot Western about two reluctant enemies wrestling with what a shared life could have been shows how a director of Almodóvar’s calibre can make a difficult task seem seamless.

Speaking of seams, it’s worth noting (unavoidably so, in fact) that the film was commissioned and produced by Saint Laurent Productions – the prestige fashion house’s first venture into the film world. 

The film does serve as a showcase for creative director Anthony Vaccarello’s latest designs, and never has the American frontier looked so stylish. 

That emerald green jacket in particular.

As such, there’s no denying that the film does double up as a glorified YSL commercial, but it’s to Almodóvar’s credit that Strange Way of Life can’t be reduced to a mere branding exercise. The colourful threads complement the filmmaker’s signature style – specifically his colourful visual palette – and beyond cinematic aesthetics, there’s a palpable passion and an unmistakable tenderness to this film that can't be dismissed. 

This is due to the chemistry between Hawke and Pascal, who buttress the central theme of longing. Not a closeted longing, but engulfed in the inability to forget the past’s dashed promises. Jake wants to move forward, but can’t hide his bitterness at the things that might have been; Silva is still haunted by regret and what his abandoned love has cost him as an emotional being. These intertwined stances are made all the more pine-worthy with a steamy flashback to the younger caballeros (played by Jose Condessa and Jason Fernandez), which shows that Almodóvar has lost none of his edge when it comes to filming yearning through bodies. The evocative score by Alberto Iglesias helps in no small way here.

El Deseo - Saint Laurent - Pathé
Post-coital bliss?El Deseo - Saint Laurent - Pathé

While Almodóvar doesn’t completely rewrite the Western rulebook, the only real complaint with Strange Way of Life is that the whole thing is over too soon. Almodóvar whets your appetite, and what is a tale of impossible longing filled with desire and bitterness for both Jake and Silva soon becomes your own – a slightly bitter longing expressed as a burning desire for a full length feature.

That said, an elongated version of Strange Way of Life might dilute its impact. As abrupt as the ending may seem, you remain stuck inside an emotional prison with the central characters. A fuller picture, while tempting, may set you free. 

Best to leave you emotionally shackled. And wanting more.

Strange Way of Life premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival and is out now in select cinemas in Europe.

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