Renowned Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, known for his significant contributions to Spanish cinema, steps into the quintessential American genre with his latest creation, a 31-minute Western short titled “Strange Way of Life.” This experimental film stars Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal as estranged lovers in the American frontier, revisiting their passionate youth before confronting a classic Old West-style standoff.
In “Strange Way of Life,” Almodóvar masterfully explores the homoerotic undercurrents of the Western genre, bringing a fresh perspective to the iconic image of the solitary cowboy. With an offscreen love scene and a distinct visual style, the film challenges the genre’s traditionally male-focused narratives by fearlessly addressing men’s desires in this American cinematic tradition.
Almodóvar shared his thoughts on this unique endeavor, stating, “The Western is an American genre, but it’s also a male genre. And I am surprised that, at least during this century, nobody talks about that.” This venture reflects his long-standing fascination with Westerns, despite initially perceiving them as distant from his own style.
As the film unfolds, it portrays the reunion of Hawke’s character, Jake, now the solitary sheriff of Bitter Creek, and Pascal’s character, Silva, who lives on a remote ranch. Their encounter reignites a passionate connection that had been dormant for 25 years. However, their night of passion leads to unforeseen consequences, as they find themselves on opposing sides of justice.
While “Strange Way of Life” playfully engages with the Western genre, it also aligns with Almodóvar’s signature melodramatic style. The film presents its protagonists as complex and emotionally charged figures, a characteristic shared with classic Westerns. Its title, borrowed from a Portuguese folk song, encapsulates the central theme of living a life disconnected from one’s desires.
In this short film, Almodóvar’s cinematography takes on a symbolic role, using visual composition to communicate desire and the characters’ complex relationship with it. By not overtly depicting physical intimacy, he allows the audience to focus on the characters’ dialogues about desire, a subtle approach that stands out in his oeuvre.
Almodóvar credits his more restrained approach to the influence of ’50s films, particularly noirs, where the portrayal of desire was achieved through subtext and intense, non-explicit interactions. “Sometimes, this kind of censorship [emphasizes] what they don’t do,” he noted.
In “Strange Way of Life,” Almodóvar’s portrayal of desire reaches its zenith when the two characters, post-passion, engage in a dance-like confrontation, reminiscent of the rugged cowboys in Western classics. As they slowly don rough cotton clothes, sensuality emanates from every frame, emphasizing that true desire often lies in subtlety.
Pedro Almodóvar’s “Strange Way of Life” boldly reimagines the Western genre, offering a unique perspective on love, passion, and the iconic cowboy figure. With its fearless exploration of homoeroticism and a distinctive visual language, the film proves that the boundaries of cinema remain ripe for exploration.