Almodovar’s “STRANGE WAY OF LIFE” holds more emotion and depth than most of today’s films | FILM REVIEW

Last Updated: October 9, 2023By Tags: , , ,

Pedro Almodóvar’s thirty one-minute serving of cinematic tapas, “Strange Way of Life,” is his first Western, of sorts. The picture has guns and horses and rugged men on both sides of the law, but there is also a burning sexuality to the piece. After all, this is Almodóvar. Fans of Almodóvar films should be aware this is not a subversive and comedically flamboyant look at Westerns but a subdued motion picture. What may seem a simple tale at surface level, breathes with deep subtext.

The film begins with Alberto Iglesias’s evocative Spanish guitar score. An angelic and handsome troubadour (Manu Ríos) sings a melancholy ballad of love. Almodóvar holds tight on the man’s face, his eyes and voice becoming a seduction that lures the audience into his spell.

As the sun beats down, Silva (Pedro Pascal) rides into a small western town and immediately goes to see his old pal, Sheriff Jake (an intense Ethan Hawke). The visit is a somewhat awkward but welcome surprise until it is revealed that Jake is searching for the man who murdered his brother. That man happens to be Silva’s son, Joe (George Steane). Claiming his only intent was to find a doctor who could fix his hurt back, Silva seeks to reconnect with Jake, but his old buddy knows better and thinks he is out to save his doomed son.

Despite a potentially dangerous outcome, the two men share a meal and rekindle their true feelings, which go far beyond friendship. As they reminisce about their younger days and affection for one another, it becomes clear that fire has never died. For Silva, it burns strong. For Jake, he tried to bury what happened between them 25 years ago. A bottle of good wine and Jake’s reawakened desire lead the two men to a night of passion.

Hawke and Pascal are in top form as the two lovers; each actor transforming their long, loving, glances into something powerful. Their words are few, but the love and lust between them is intoxicating. Every movement, every look and tonal shift, tell a tale of forbidden taboos in a world of violent men. The chemistry between the two is naturalistic as their love is once again set aflame.

Almodóvar chooses a flashback to represent the younger Silva and Jake,

taking the film back to the defining moment of their lives. The scene pays tribute to a sequence from Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch,” spinning the macho grandeur of that 1969 classic on its head to capture the first moment these two young men gave in to their feelings. The two cowboys (along with three women) shoot holes into wine barrels. The wine pours like rain and things get rowdy as the sexual sparks increase. Drunk with life, everyone starts kissing and fondling one another until the women realize they are no longer needed, as the young Jake and Silva embrace with an intensity that culminates in their first sexual encounter.

Almodóvar and director of photography José Luis Alcaine weave a gorgeous tapestry that becomes a seamless blend of the director’s unmistakable visual style and a sun-soaked Spanish western. The director and his cinematographer don’t go for the sweeping vistas found in the works of John Ford or Howard Hawks. The beauty of the landscape is more contained, echoing the locked-away passion between Silva and Jake these years. The film’s visual style gives the story intimacy and graceful elegance.

While Almodóvar’s screenplay appears like a sketch for a longer piece, the film captures his rhythms and gets right to the ambiguities that color these two men. Each scene reveals a new emotion, giving potent layers to the deceptively simple tale. It is to the director’s credit that such a short film has time to breathe. The screenplay allows us to know these two men (past and present) with carefully chosen dialogue performed to perfection by Hawke and Pascal.

Companionship, guilt, desire, and the purity of souls forever connected; these are the themes that combine to make another unique work from Pedro Almodóvar. In only thirty-one minutes, “Strange Way of Life” holds more emotion and depth than most of today’s films.

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