Strange Way of Life review – Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke sizzle in Almodóvar’s queer cowboy yarn
The director gets back in the saddle at Cannes with this dusty lusty tale of long-lost lovers bound by a bloody fate
Pedro Almodóvar returns to Cannes with an entertaining divertissement: this 30-minute short, starring Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke, is a queer western with a hint of kink.
Pascal is Silva, a handsome Mexican cowpoke who comes riding into a remote western town with the resonant name of Bitter Creek. Having tethered his horse and affectionately nuzzled it in a way that might have been alien to John Wayne, Silva comes to see the sheriff, Jake, played by Hawke.
It is the first time the two men have laid eyes (and much else) on each other for 25 years. After dinner together, during which Jake abandons his teetotalism and drinks wine, the two men’s feelings for each other become too intense to resist. The next morning, Silva asks to borrow a pair of Jake’s underpants. Almodóvar’s lovingly protracted shot of Jake’s pristine underwear drawer is an amusing fetish.
There is to be no postcoital glow: Jake instantly regrets succumbing to his desires, because apart from everything else, he is on the trail of Silva’s son (Manu Ríos), whom he suspects of murder. He is not to be dissuaded from bringing this supposed felon to justice and it is to lead to a violent standoff and a singular vision of that domestic bliss which is their destiny.
Gunplay has long been inspected for its metaphoric content: here, Almodóvar playfully, if tacitly, offers us the question of who is doing the shooting, who is getting shot, and what are the sexual and power relations implied by nursing a gunshot wound, stemming the bloodflow using that lily-white underwear torn into bandages. I can imagine Strange Way of Life being enlarged into a full-length feature but that might well dilute the impact of these variously tense and poignant scenes between the two men. There is some very robust and old-fashioned storytelling here and Strange Way of Life feels quite old-fashioned in its way. It’s certainly good to see Almodóvar back in the saddle at Cannes.