It might have been damp and chilly on the Riviera, but Pedro Almodóvar’s queer Western Strange Way of Life had moviegoers all hot and bothered. “You didn’t have a bad back!” says town sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke) to post-coital paramour Silva (Pedro Pascal), bare-assed and “still smelling of cum.” Gunsmoke, this is not.
Pedro Almodóvar’s steamy 31-minute short premiered on Wednesday to a packed, rain-soaked crowd of 1,000 rapturous theatergoers here at the 76th Cannes Film Festival. Patient throngs endured light showers for over an hour outside the overbooked and eagerly anticipated event, where distracted guards accidentally let rush-line attendees into the venue early—leaving as many as 300 proper ticket holders all washed up.
Inside, the Spanish filmmaker was oblivious to the chaos, and was just focused on how nervous and excited he was to share his new film about los cowboys. “This is the best place in the world to be—at least for me,” he gushed. Pascal, prepping for a role in Ridley’s Scott’s Gladiator sequel, couldn’t attend, but Almodóvar had his other cast members there, George Steane, Jason Fernández, José Condessa and Manuel Rios. Standing next to him were Hawke, sporting a cream-colored suit with pinstripes; and Condessa and Rio showing off chiseled chests beneath their open shirts . “You can see the beauties that are here with me,” beamed Almodóvar. “I’ve dreamed of working with Ethan since a long time ago. Now that I have,” he said, grabbing him in a side-hug, “I can say we’re dream buddies.”
And what a dream: the richly acted, sumptuously photographed Strange Way of Life lives up to its title as a revisionist Western that embraces its classical genre roots while also carving out a very modern way of looking at the past. “Ten years ago,” said Almodóvar in an onstage interview post-screening, “they said the Western is dead.” But then movies like Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog came along and showed that there was room for more gay stories than just Brokeback Mountain. “Of course,” clarified Almodóvar, “they didn’t fuck.”
They sure do in Almodóvar’s film—although in a more traditionally romantic way that harkens back to old Hollywood classics. Over a boozy dinner, the pair reminiscence about their times in Mexico as hired guns, drinking and whoring together—and maybe even more. “How long did that madness last?” says Jake. “Two months,” replies Silva. “And it wasn’t madness.”
Silva stares at Jake’s bed while Jake stares at Silva’s ass. Jake then cozies up from behind and nuzzles Silva’s neck. Fade to black. Then the camera fades in on scattered clothes and tussled sheets—with Silva’s tush peeking out from under the conjugal mess. “We drank too much,” snorts Jake.
Regrets, frustration, and longing quickly follow, as well as an extended Mexico flashback to their youthful, trigger-happy selves, shooting up a huge wine cask and bathing under two bullet-hole-sized streams of vino tinto. They revel in the shower with the prostitutes, lapping it up, licking it off each other and stealing deep, sloppy kisses. At a certain point, the women roll their eyes at and just walk away, leaving the two men to their crotch-grabbing antics.
“The Western is still very much alive,” insisted Almodóvar, who seemed rejuvenated by his dabbling in the American mythos. “Not like Yellowstone, which is traditional in the worst way.” He prefers “new ways of looking at the genre,” such as Chloé Zhao’s The Rider.
Saint Laurent co-financed the film, as well as all the bespoke Western attire, especially Silva’s vibrant green denim jacket—itself inspired by Jimmy Stewart’s coat in Anthony Mann’s Bend in the River. But the real allure is the humanism of Almodóvar’s drama, which crisply details how Silva’s outlaw son murdered Jake’s brother and now must either face justice or flee the country. The underlining tragedy is the emotional pull between the two men, whose intense, forbidden connection forced them to separate for 25 years until they were now brought back together under the worst circumstances.
“There’s the way we are and the way we want to be, whether you’re straight or gay,” said Hawke after the screening. “It creates cracks in us. And getting older is about getting rid of those cracks.”
The moderator asked Hawke about the undetermined fate of the two star-crossed lovers after the film ends. “I think they’re going to stay together,” he said. “But Pedro and I disagree.”
Pedro then piped in. “Knowing the character of Jake,” he said, “I’m sure at some point they go to Mexico in the style of Sam Peckinpah.” He then launched into an elaborate scenario that extended their saga and complicated their destinies in surprising detail. “There would be gunfire, another standoff, but that would be at the end of two hours,” he continued. “And by then they would be free of their nightmare.” The moderator looked at him with surprise and delight that his half-hour short might eventually become a proper epic.
Almodóvar shrugged and smiled. “Perhaps I should do it!”