Following on from his gorgeous The Human Voice (2020), a one-hander starring Tilda Swinton, Pedro Almodóvar continues his foray into short filmmaking. This time round, he brings us Strange Way of Life, essentially a two-hander. Silva (Pedro Pascal) and Jake (Ethan Hawke), now sheriff of a town called Bitter Creek, are ex-lovers who have been estranged for 25 years. They have forged new lives for themselves, lives which include wives, lovers and children. Their separate paths converge when Silva’s son Joe is accused of killing Jake’s sister-in-law, who was both Joe’s lover and Jake’s ex paramour.
Silva rides into town, resplendent in an apple green jacket (courtesy of Anthony Vaccarello for Yves Saint Laurent, which is also an associate producer of the film). Jake is equally dapper in his designer garb; Bitter Creek might be a one-horse town, but it is there are more handsome fellas here than you can swing a lariat at. There’s one serenading us as the film opens and another in the sheriff’s office. Joe, the renegade son, has certainly inherited his dad’s good looks and even the Mexican prostitutes are gorgeous.
Suffice to say, Almodóvar isn’t interested in authenticity. But he is interested in beauty – the cast, the interiors, the art, the horses, and the location all exude loveliness. This might be the first western in which single men live with Georgia O’Keefe art on the walls, kitsch religious ornaments on the dresser and walls painted in Almodóvar’s preferred colour palette.
Although the film was shot in Almeria, the location of many a spaghetti western, it has little in common with that genre. What interests Almodóvar is the relationship between his two protagonists and whether they can make their love work in such a hostile environment.
Interestingly, the director has chosen to be pretty coy when it comes to the sex scenes. We glimpse Silva’s butt, but there is no frontal nudity. And before things get too steamy, the sex scenes fade to black. There’s a bit of kissing and heavy petting but that’s all we’re allowed to see, making it feel strangely dated, like a film from the 1950s.
Whereas The Human Voice gave the audience so much, the director creating a visual and intellectual feast in just 30 minutes, this film feels somewhat lacking: there is little desire to see more or to learn more about these flimsy, two-dimensional characters, which is a shame when you have two actors of such calibre, both turning in perfectly fine performances. With a little more substance to match the superficial loveliness, this could have been a great half-hour.