This review is published as part of DraftKings Network’s 2023 New York Film Festival coverage.
Of all the small towns, he had to come into mine. This is precisely the train of thought Jake (Ethan Hawke), sheriff of Bitter Creek, thought when he saw Silva (Pedro Pascal) roll into town in Pedro Almodovar’s 30-minute queer western short Strange Way of Life. It’s been about 25 years since both men have seen each other. They both had a romantic rendezvous during a trip to Mexico, and Silva has undoubtedly not forgotten about it.
On the other hand, Jake at least tries to. It’s not the love that brings these two back together again (although they get to that later). Jake wants to bring Silva’s son Joe (George Steane) to justice for allegedly murdering Jake’s sister-in-law. If that wasn’t messy enough, the sister-in-law had an affair with Jake and was Joe’s romantic interest. It’s a ball of love, passion, and fashion. Strange Way of Life operates more as a fashion commercial idea for a full-length feature than a fully realized short film.
Anthony Vaccarello for Yves Saint Laurent acts as an executive producer, and his imprint on costume design is very apparent. When we first see Pascal, he’s riding a horse with a bright green jean jacket. The visuals are Almodovar’s focal point as the setting in this short film is beautifully formulated like a classic spaghetti western. Both Pascal and Hawke try to commit to the characters in the best way possible. Despite rebuffs and overly (and comical) lines of dialogue, love will always find a way. After a night of romance, both men bicker over the next course of action. Silva, well, he wants Jake to forget about Joe’s possible transgressions. Jake is committed to his duties – even if it means it will cost him the possible love of his life.
Almodovar shows restraint in the love scenes, even if you get a glance of the morning after bare bottom. Much is left to the longing for recollection as Jake and Silva possibly rekindle what they had. Everybody looks great in Strange Way of Life, and you can’t help but wonder if that’s supposed to be your main takeaway from this short film. With more time and attention to detail character-wise, this could have been more than a half-an-hour moving billboard.