Strange Way of Life, the new short film by Pedro Almodóvar, represented an exciting challenge for the Spanish director: it was his second movie in English, and his first foray into the Western genre. In the short film — which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year — Almodóvar explores the recurring themes of his work, such as complex romantic relationships, the past and betrayal.
The short film, which has a running time of just 31 minutes, is considered Almodóvar’s “answer” to the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain. He was asked to direct that movie, but turned down the project, which was, in the end, directed by Ang Lee. He said that he said no to the movie, because while he told the story of two gay men, it lacked the sexual element that, for the filmmaker, was essential to narrate the romance. With Strange Way of life, the Spanish director tries to create his own story, expressing his vision faithful to his style.
The short film is about a sheriff of a small town in the middle of the desert (played by Ethan Hawke), who receives notice that Silva (Pedro Pascal), a friend from his childhood, has returned to town without any explanation. It is later revealed that the two men have different interests surrounding a criminal case in which a young man murdered a woman. As they navigate the conflict, they both remember the passionate romance they had in the past. Silva seems more eager to remember it, while Sheriff Jake wants to forget what happened.
Almodóvar talked to EL PAÍS about his decision to cast Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal for the main roles. The director described the characters of Sheriff Jake and Silva as an absolute portrait of the two actors. He said he was delighted that they agreed to take part, since he wanted two actors who were complete opposites, even physically, and who represented two different cultures. In his own words, “One is a cold, hermetic Anglo-American, and the other is the opposite: warm, truculent… unafraid to talk about his desires.” For the director, Pascal and Hawke had no trouble inhabiting these characters. “They are perfect for the roles,” he told EL PAÍS, describing both of their performances as “superb.”
Almódovar — who is known for his famed movies All About My Mother and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown — was also enthusiastic about the opportunity to highlight Pedro Pascal’s versatility as an actor. He recognized that most of Pascal’s successes had come by playing gruff and stern heroes (as seen in the HBO series The Last of Us), and thought Strange Way of Life would allow Pascal to show that he can also play more tender characters, like Silva.
As for Ethan Hawke, Almodóvar said that the actor exceeded his expectations. Although he noticed differences in the way American and Spanish actors worked, Almodóvar said they adapted to collaborate in the best way possible. The Oscar-nominated director mentioned that he made the actors rehearse more than they were used to, and in front of the camera. He said that both Hawke and Pascal showed surprising growth with respect to rehearsals. He described the experience of working with them as “fantastic.”
The short film — which is currently in theaters — is a worthy addition to Almodóvar’s filmography, and shows his interest in exploring different ways of telling stories. In 30 minutes, it tells a compelling story with a very clear message that reminds us of the director’s key mission: to show us “stranger ways of life” and make the audience empathize with his off-beat characters.
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