Pedro Almodóvar is perhaps just as well-known for his short films as his features. The Human Voice, starring Tilda Swinton and running in at thirty minutes, was the Spanish director’s first venture into English-Language filmmaking. His latest short, backed by iconic French fashion house Saint Laurent’s new film production company, follows suit as a tribute to the all-American Western. Set against scenic landscapes, Strange Way of Life finds former male lovers Jake (Ethan Hawke) and Silva (Pedro Pascal) meeting once again after a staggering twenty-five years apart. Jake, who is now the Sheriff of a small desert-bordering town called Bitter Creek, quickly suspects that Silva’s sudden appearance after traveling across the desert on horseback is a cover for something more sinister than he can imagine.
In the opening minutes, it’s revealed that the Sheriff’s sister-in-law was recently murdered and the only witness recalls the suspect limping, specifically on his left leg, thus revealing the killer’s identity to Jake. This is only reinforced when Silva rides into town not long after. They share dinner and an undisclosed amount of red wine, which proves to be a catalyst for their intimacy time and time again. The uncontrollable desire between them escalates to a climax. Relieved of the lust that was lassoing him back in, Jake’s speculation comes to light the morning after. He accuses Silva of visiting as an excuse to protect his son, Joe (George Steane), from being convicted of murder, forming an antagonizing rift which in due course leads to a thrilling stand-off.
Strange Way of Life is not like what many are expecting considering Almodóvar’s notorious comments about how he would have altered Brokeback Mountain should he have directed it instead of Ang Lee. In fact, the most intimate scene of all doubles as the short’s only flashback, calling back to the pair’s two months together in Mexico as hired gunmen which Silva refers to at their reunion dinner. Accompanied by a trio of women in a brothel, younger versions of Jake (Jason Fernández) and Silva (José Condessa) shoot barrels with open mouths as the group relish in the waterfalls of red wine until their lips find each other. The others take the obvious hint and leave them in solitude, leading to a vibrant and sensual encounter.
This scene is the most memorable within the film’s swift thirty-minute runtime as intimacy shared between Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke is scarce and more so implied aside from brief glimpses and underwhelming fades to black. But, of course, that’s not all that Strange Way of Life has to offer. From costumes designed by the current creative director of Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello, to Alberto Iglasias’ atmospheric score, the craft put into the short is undeniably charming. Shot primarily in a string of close-ups, the audience is consistently within the character’s personal space on the screen. Hawke and Pascal share a chemistry that is in no way strenuous to become wholly invested in, while the supporting cast shines in their fleeting moments.
Pedro Pascal brings a level of softness and innocence to the rancher Silva but is also not afraid to show off his more manipulative traits in dire circumstances in a way that contrasts Hawke’s consistent rough around the edges approach to Jake. Their relationship, although not as revealing as some fans might be hoping for, shows both the best and most unexpected strengths of both actors. Strange Way of Life feels more like an excerpt from a far more expansive movie, and while this does not by any means hinder the short by any means, it leaves far more to be desired in the best way possible.
The story of these two men, filled to the brim with elements of their seductive back-and-forth dynamic and rich histories, has all the ingredients to make an enthralling feature. Jake and Silva’s fates remain ambiguous and open to interpretation by the end of Strange Way of Life, a conclusion which would have been more satisfying had there been further glimpses into their estranged connection. Nonetheless, Pedro Almodóvar is loyal to servicing his character’s identities and insecurities at all times, conveying that desire and lust are elements of human nature that even time and even spite cannot alter. This is a really promising start for Saint Laurent Productions and with new projects from David Cronenberg and Paolo Sorrentino confirmed to be on the way, they are looking to take the film world by storm.