Strange Way of Life (Extraña forma de vida) is a gay western drama involving a gunslinger turned sheriff, Jake, and a gunslinger turned rancher, Silva. The story begins at the point where they meet for the first time in 25 years. The reason for their meeting isn’t some nostalgic reconnection but Silva’s attempt to dissuade Jake from arresting his son who is a prime suspect in the murder of Jake’s sister-in-law whom Jake had sworn to protect. Well, not surprisingly, the moment the two leads lock eyes after decades the memories start to seep back in. We are only given a hint of these memories through their conversations, through the way they gaze at each other especially in the scene where Jake’s eyes are fixated on Silva’s bottom. In the very next shot Jake approaches Silva from behind him. With the former in the background and the latter in the foreground, the two are brought into focus using a lovely split diopter shot. Its a striking image not only because of its technique but because of its effectiveness in communicating that at this point nothing else mattered to them more than each other’s intimate company. This aspect is where the film hits its highest notes which is aided further by ace performances by Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal.

Ethan Hawke & Pedro Pascal in Pedro Almodóvar's Strange Way Of Life (2023)
Ethan Hawke & Pedro Pascal in Pedro Almodóvar’s Strange Way Of Life (2023)

The one and only flashback of the film, which is intercut in such a way that both Jake and Silva reminisce the exact same memory simultaneously while being separated miles away from each other, is a really tidy subversion. Let me explain – the scene feature young versions of our main characters and three women with a plan to shoot holes into a tall wine basket and drink out from that. Now here are two handsome men and three beautiful women about to get drunk – the perfect setup for some young blooded fooling around. But the moment wine starts oozing out, Silva and Jake savour not only its taste but that of each others’ lips, completely ignoring the wine-drenched women, something which straight guys would consider a sin. While I chuckled at the groaning expressions of the ignored ladies, what stayed with me was the scene’s sweet sensuality.

Given that its a western, grand vistas of the arid desert are a staple in the film’s cinematography. Fun fact – the film was shot in southern Spain which is also where Sergio Leone made his iconic Dollars Trilogy. According to one observer, the sets were far more period accurate than Leone’s low budget production. This is not surprising since the film has been bankrolled by the fashion line Saint Laurent. But what is surprising is that it never felt like a clothing line commercial given how much creative freedom Almodovar wielded.

*Spoilers Ahead*

All in all Strange Way of Life isn’t the kind of film that burns a permanent image in your head. Its a breezy watch. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, its only a breezy watch until its abrupt ending shows up. Right from the start we already know that Silva will have to make the difficult choice of either handing over his son or going against Jake. He chooses to betray Jake by shooting him and letting his son escape. Even though he makes sure Jake is not mortally wounded so that he can treat him at his ranch, Jake harbours an intense animosity towards him. Now I’m thinking “Jake is injured and is being treated by the very person who shot him and whose guts he intensely hates but somehow also loves given their past romance. Lets see how Almodovar resolves this conundrum.” And then the film ends. It honestly felt like Almodovar decided one fine day that he had filmed enough and just stopped. Then he slapped a half-baked conclusion about the beauty of two men spending their time taking care of each other on a ranch, a desire held by Silva which is nonchalantly mentioned at the start, and rolled the credits. Its evident that the sole purpose of showing Silva’s ranch dreams at the beginning is just to somehow use it to bookend the film since they probably either didn’t have a concrete ending or didn’t know how to take the story forward from thereon. Its sad that what could have been a character trait integral to Silva, ended up being sacrificed for the sake of a plot point. In any other film, the final scene would have been heartfelt, giving a glimpse into the possibilities that the two characters could explore right after the end of the film. Its a sign of a new beginning. But in this case the main point of conflict is the dilemma faced by Silva. And what he does to resolve it irreversibly changes his relationship with Jake. Perhaps for the worst. With such a dramatic shift for our characters, it sets the stage for either their relationship’s further fallout or some form of compromised resolution. The film throws both possibilities out of the window and opts for ending prematurely. Usually one might hear people say that so-and-so film could have done better with a shorter runtime but here I firmly believe that Strange Way of Life desperately needed atleast an additional 15 minutes to end the story. Unfortunately, what it did end was my favourable opinion of the film.

This review was first published during the 2023 JIO MAMI Mumbai Film Festival the movie is now streaming on Netflix.

Strange Way Of Life Movie Information

External Links: Rotten Tomatoes
Rating: R (Some Sexual Content|Language|Bloody Images)
Genre: Western, Lgbtq+, Short
Original Language: English
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Producer: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García
Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Release Date (Theaters): Oct 4, 2023 Limited
Runtime: 31m

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