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Iglesias Más/Sony Pictures Classics

Strange Way of Life (2023)

They don't even kiss; not their current counterparts, anyway. Silva (Pedro Pascal) and Jake (Ethan Hawke) were young cowboys together, and together in every sense of the word. Now Jake is a sheriff and Silva a rancher; and their meeting for the first time in 25 years is due to the awkward fact that Silva's son, Joe (George Steane), has killed Jake's sister-in-law. Has Silva decided to leverage the past in order to save his son? Or is there something else going on?

These questions are not satisfyingly answered, because this is a 30-minute short film that only premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival because the director is Pedro Almodóvar. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But in the talk afterwards - and it's always strange to experience a talk about a film that's twice as long as the film itself - Mr. Almodóvar said that as he ages he's no longer interested in showing explicit sex onscreen. He's now more interested in the restraint shown in films of the film noir era and in demonstrating the ordinariness of homosexual relationships through two men making the bed, instead of all the stuff they got up to which rumpled the sheets.

This is horrendous for two reasons. First, this completely ignores the Hays Code and its puritanical control of how sex could be shown on screen, including absolutely no direct references to gayness. We queers got so good at reading between the lines because that is all that Hollywood movies allowed! The whole point of gay liberation was that relationships between two people of same (or similar) genders was allowed out into view, and for Mr. Almodóvar and Mr. Hawke to talk about the golden age of westerns without mentioning this censorship is idiotic. Secondly, for a man of Mr. Almodóvar's track record with actresses, who have been so sexually exposed in his films over the decades that this gave him his career, to suddenly become coy when it's male nudity in question is as hypocritical as it comes. The younger actors (José Condessa and Jason Fernández) at least get a fine metaphor with their guns and a wineskin, but the hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Or is it a financial consideration? The film's costumes, most notably a green jacket worn by Mr. Pascal, are by Saint Laurent's Anthony Vaccarello, who also produced (under that precise billing). It is surely not a coincidence that Mr. Almodóvar wore a prominently branded baseball jacket saying Saint Laurent on the back when he took to the stage in Cannes. Were his corporate financiers afraid that showing two big stars in flagrante in their little movie would frighten the horses?

It would seem so, meaning that “Strange Way of Life” is an empty shell, both of the western and of homosexuality. What a disappointment.

Ang Lee’s courage in making “Brokeback Mountain” remains unsurpassed.


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