Strange Way of Life

dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2023

Silva (Pedro Pascal) is standing in a parlour room facing the camera. To the left, behind him, Jake (Ethan Hawke) looks longingly over Silva's shoulder.
Image credit: Amazon MGM

Brokeback Mountain now has a worthy match in the arena of heart-scoring tales of lost love and lonesome cowboys. Strange Way of Life is Pedro Almodóvar’s short romance of regret located in the great American expanse. The often overplayed myth of the Old West feels refreshingly underdeveloped in this condensed 30-minute script; as credits showed up too soon, I was saddened that Almodóvar had not opted for a feature-length project this time.

Strange Way sets up the reunion of two rogue gunslingers who were once lovers, Jake and Silva (Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal), after 25 years of separation. In an attempt to move towards the ‘right’ side of the law, in the decades past Jake has shifted from desperado into sheriff and placed miles of desert between him and his ex. On cue, a yearning Silva rides into town angling to reminisce and rekindle the fire of ‘those 60 days’ that took place years ago. Remaining unconvincingly unshaken by Silva’s reappearance, Jake is resistant to being sentimentally reeled in. But, there’s a familiar longing seeping through his stoic facade. A flashback spliced between scenes tells us that the couple indeed have much tenderness to recall. Only now, in the mature stages of life, there are other meddlesome stakes in play.

Strange Way lies in a nearby but distinct camp alongside its lovelorn Hollywood cowboy companions. Unlike Brokeback, it avoids becoming completely misty-eyed out on the range. Likewise, its intensity doesn’t veer into the disquiet of Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. Preferring not to limit tone to a dominant emotional register, Almodóvar wavers between a fixation on the nostalgia of lustful youth versus crimes of bitterness and passion. I view these conflicting tensions at the abrupt ending of Strange Way of Life as an invitation for the story to be continued… rather than the hastily tied knot on a fraying thread. But perhaps, like a love affair extinguished in prime heat, a premature curtain call is a signal of a good thing that cannot be expected to last.