Showing for only one day in select cinemas, the release of the 34-minute-long film Strange Way of Life (2023) was a surprisingly well-anticipated event. There was palpable excitement for the film, its trailer receiving 2.6m views on YouTube and inspiring countless edits on Instagram and TikTok. It seemed this would be both a novelty and a cultural moment: shining a light on masculine queer relationships through the Western aesthetic, using two giant actors to fill the role while allowing it to still be sensual and sexual. A cultural revamp of queer cowboys, stamping a Latino twist on Brokeback Mountain’s legacy.
The result? In all honesty, the film is a lot of flash with little substance, and perhaps plays better as a parody or ‘B movie’ (which got mysteriously cut short at 34 minutes) than a serious corto.
Now – the film. In short, the story follows Silva (Pedro Pascal) as he reunites with small-town Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke) after 25 years after discovering Silva’s son had murdered his own wife, and Jake must arrest him. Silva and Jake sleep together after a night of wine (and intense exposition) and spend the next few days in a battle over their emotions, their secrets, and their responsibilities to each other, the law, and their families.
A lot of style, internalised homophobia, and little substance
It is, in short, a bit messy and all over the place. Each line of dialogue feels like a little slap in the face, intense and objective with little room for interpretation. These characters put their intentions and thoughts out openly in sharp, aggressive, and fast dialogue which contains way too much information. It is clear to us very quickly why Silva has returned (to prevent Jake from arresting his son), what Jake thinks about this, and why things are so tense.
I would have struggled to write much about this film having only watched it. The film was, for me, 30 minutes of awkward dialogue, picturesque shots reminiscent of fashion shoots (no shock considering the film was created in association with designer brand Yves Saint Laurent) and masculine tension. Basically, a lot of style, internalised homophobia, and little substance.
Staying for the following 60-minute recorded interview session with the film’s director Pedro Almodóvar did, however, leave me in brighter spirits about the film, and a larger appreciation for its vision.
At its heart this film was intended to be bizarre. The unbridled intensity of the couple’s dialogue, the almost anachronistic outfitting such as Pedro Pascal’s iconic bright green jacket, the jarring discussions surrounding queer sex and relationships in the cowboy era alongside arguments about domestic violence and abuse of women. It all makes for a very clear aesthetic and an unclear message, though this does accurately encompass the ‘strangeness’ Almodóvar intended to bring to his piece. The focal point of the film is Jake and Silva’s discussion after having sex, where Silva tries to speak about their relationship while Jake blames everything on the wine. For Almodóvar, this conversation was the central piece of the film: two men speaking after an ‘orgiastic’ night, where one man – Silva – is able to confront and discuss his feelings while simultaneously trying to manipulate his partner into getting what he wants, and the other man – Jake – tries to blame it on alcohol, but is desperately hurt when he realises that his partner didn’t come to reunite with him, and instead came to use him.
It’s a shame, really. This ambitious project, which had so much support behind it and so much thought placed in it, was ultimately quite hollow and, at times, painfully awkward. And as beloved as they are, Hawke and Pascal’s respective talents cannot overcome intense close-up camera shots, badly paced dialogue, and a half-baked plot.
Image: Luisa E via Unsplash