“Strange Way of Life” (Sony Pictures Classics) is gay, Spanish, filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s second English-language short feature following 2020's “The Human Voice.” It’s so thoroughly different from anything that Almodóvar has done previously that, even though it’s only 31 minutes long, it may take viewers longer to process than anything else in his oeuvre.
“Strange Way of Life” is a period piece, set in a vaguely early 20th century time. It’s a queer love letter to Hollywood westerns in Cinemascope, right down to the lettering in the opening credits. It doubles as a YSL fashion show, marking the debut of Saint Laurent Productions. It’s more titillating than erotic, a teaser in the way that only a short feature can be, leaving viewers wanting more (and breathlessly so).
Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke) is on a tear to find the man who murdered a young woman. The suspect is identified as a man with a limp. Jake’s focus is interrupted by the arrival of Silva (Pedro Pascal), whom he hasn’t seen in 25 years. Obviously more than old acquaintances, the electrically charged heat and history crackles between them. Following a home-cooked meal and some wine, they end up in Jake’s bed.
Twenty-five years earlier, Jake and Silva had a hot two-month sexual relationship. Seen in a flashback, portrayed by José Condessa as young Silva and Jason Fernández as young Jake, we fully understand the attraction. But even now, the pair smolders with middle-aged male hotness.
But this reunion is more than just social/sexual. The limping man suspected of murdering the woman is Silva’s no-good son Joe (George Steane). Silva is there to plead for Joe’s life. However, Jake is a sheriff first and a homosexual second. Determined to bring Joe to justice, Jake makes it plain that he won’t be deterred or distracted by Silva’s presence.
Meanwhile, Silva wants to help Joe in any way he can. He heads off into the mountains to locate his son, with Jake hot on his trail. “Strange Way of Life” wouldn’t be a Western without a standoff, punches thrown, and someone getting shot. In this case, it’s Silva who shoots Jake so that Joe can get away.
But here’s where things get interesting. As Silva describes it, it’s a non-life-threatening “clean shot straight through the waist.” Silva takes the opportunity to nurse Jake back to health, telling him that it’s their destiny. After all, no one will understand how Silva missed the shot and then treated Jake’s wound. They will be two men living together on a ranch, looking after each other, protecting each other, and keeping each other company.