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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

NYFF 61 Review: ‘Strange Way of Life’ is Almodóvar’s spin on the Wild West

A new queer Western romance starring Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke, “Strange Way of Life” made its triumphant North American premiere at NYFF, and it is now showing in select theaters in New York City.
(Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Eighteen years after “Brokeback Mountain” was released, famed director Pedro Almodóvar’s new short film “Strange Way of Life” gives fans of the modern Western romance a new take on the subgenre. This is the Spanish auteur’s newest project since his 2021 queer romance “Parallel Mothers.”

The short film stars Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke as gunmen Silva and Jake respectively, who met in their youth and fell in love. After being apart from Jake for 25 years, Silva returns to an archetypal Western town, where Jake is now the sheriff. As he celebrates their long-awaited reunion and spends the night with Silva, Jake begins to reveal the reason why Silva came to see him. From there, the story unfolds in traditional Almodóvar fashion — a true collage of identity, passion and queer lust. 

The chemistry between Silva and Jake feels impressively authentic. Although they have an entertaining rapport in their first scenes together, it fades when Jake begins to pull away from Silva and the intricacies of their relationship are revealed. Silva’s soft-spoken dialogue and mannerisms directly oppose Jake’s more grave tone. 

As a whole, the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, especially given the film’s short 31-minute duration. Lines like “You just like to fuck” are a slight downgrade in comparison to the far more clever lines in Almodóvar’s previous films. “Strange Way of Life” is Almodóvar’s second short film written in English, so it’s possible that the lack of wit in the screenplay is the result of a language barrier. Since the film is a spaghetti Western — a term for a Western shot in Europe and often produced by Europeans — perhaps Almodóvar is attempting to call back to that historic subgenre wherein action and visual intrigue were prioritized over dialogue. 

Some of the most iconic Westerns in the genre’s history were shot in black and white; even as they began to be produced in color, their color schemes remained relatively muted. In comparison, Almodóvar’s take on the Western genre is filled with vibrant tones.

The cinematography was done by José Luis Alcaine, a longtime collaborator of Almodóvar’s. With “Strange Way of Life” being filmed in Spain, the aesthetics remained true to Almodóvar’s signature bright red color palette. Specifically, Almodóvar’s use of the color red conveys the uncontrollable passion between Silva and Jake — for example, they are both dressed in red on the night they reunite.  Though at times the events of “Strange Way of Life” are rather solemn, Almodóvar’s coloring doesn’t clash with the plot. Instead, it amplifies the intensity and captivates the viewer’s attention even more. 

“Strange Way of Life” marks the first collaboration between Almodóvar and Saint Laurent Productions, a subsidiary and namesake of the iconic French fashion house. It was a meeting with the French fashion house’s creative director Anthony Vaccarello that inspired Almodóvar to complete the story of “Strange Way of Life,” according to Document Journal,

“I want to work with and provide a space for all the great film talents who have inspired me over the years,” Vaccarello said in the company’s statement about the film. 

Along with being creative director, Vaccarello also costumed the film. Vaccarello’s interest in entering the film medium could be further motivated by an interest in seeing Saint Laurent clothes in more films. Nonetheless, the costume design still conforms with classic Western fashion. The riding gear and denim garb, all consistent with Almodóvar’s color palette, accurately define the rough nature of Jake and Silva’s relationship. Vaccarello is typically more modern in his designs, but the costuming here fits the setting well while still juxtaposing the sensitive nature of the gunmen’s relationship.

Despite “Strange Way of Life” offering a creative take on the Western genre, its conclusion leaves the audience wanting more — mostly an ending with closure. Almodóvar has laid a solid groundwork with his characters and aesthetic, but the story calls for a more conclusive ending that perhaps only the time frame of a feature film could offer. It is up to the audience to make an interpretation as to what it all means after the credits roll.

“Strange Way of Life” premiered at NYFF on Sept. 30. The short film will be released in theaters on Oct. 4 in New York City.

Contact Karina Rower at [email protected].

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  • J

    Judy rowerOct 7, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    This was excellent!!
    Thank you for an impressive article!!
    Judy Rower