‘Strange Way of Life’ Review: Treating Gay Cowboys as Clothes Horses

Every time two cowboys level their weapons at each other on display, there’s one thing homoerotic at play. Hollywood Westerns could also be loath to confess as a lot, however not so Pedro Almodóvar, who casts Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal as lonesome cowboys reunited after 25 years in “Strange Way of Life.” Commissioned by Saint Laurent Productions (which can also be premiering a Jean-Luc Godard quick at Cannes), this half-baked half-hour serves as a horny showcase for artistic director Anthony Vaccarello’s newest designs, whereas barely delivering on the promise that an Almodóvar-made “gay cowboy” film conjures within the creativeness.

At the Cannes premiere, the Spanish director described “Strange” as his response to a query posed by “Brokeback Mountain”: What can two males do on a ranch? Silva (Pascal) offers Jake (Hawke) his reply within the closing seconds of the quick, and it’s candy, although it seems Almodóvar is misremembering Ang Lee’s 2005 Western. The scene he’s pondering of might be the one the place Heath Ledger’s character tells Jake Gyllenhaal how his father made a degree of exhibiting him an outdated rancher’s corpse, gay-bashed with a tire iron after which “drug … around by his dick.” With a picture like that of their minds, no marvel the couple resolve to maintain their forbidden love on the down low.

In Almodóvar’s movie, a glorified style business that Sony Pictures Classics will launch later this 12 months, Jake and Silva had been saddle buddies again within the day, however haven’t locked spurs in a quarter-century. Now Jake serves as sheriff of Bitter Creek, whereas Silva lives out by himself on the vary, elevating cattle. One day, Silva rides into city to pay Jake a go to, none too nervous about what anybody would possibly assume — or else, he in all probability would’ve chosen one thing slightly extra discreet than that inexperienced denim jacket for the event. The two males change pleasantries, then an embrace (a type of front-to-back, both-men-facing-forward numbers Ang Lee gave audiences in “Brokeback”).

Jake admires Silva’s broad shoulders and nice flannel shirt from behind, his gaze monitoring downward to his neatly tailor-made pants. Then Almodóvar cuts to the bunk, the place those self same garments litter the ground and Silva lies, bare-bummed and “smelling of cum” in mattress. Well, that’s not less than one factor two males can do on a ranch.

Silva claims to nonetheless have emotions for Jake, however it’s not that easy: The sheriff is tasked with discovering the varmint who murdered his sister-in-law, and Silva’s grown son Joe (mannequin George Steane) is the lead suspect, which implies their tryst might have had an ulterior motive. While Jake takes a shower and Silva seems for a contemporary pair (a union go well with would have been extra applicable, although Almodóvar can have no matter Old West underwear fantasy he needs), the 2 bicker like a married couple. Silva retains attempting to persuade the lawman to let his son journey off to Mexico, however a job’s a job, and it seems Jake had dealings with the useless lady as effectively, so he has to carry that rascal to justice.

At the chance of sounding like some conservative outdated studio head, Jake’s dilemma in all probability would have labored higher if Silva had been a lady … during which case, Joe would possibly’ve been their love baby from all these years in the past. The means Almodóvar has it, the one motive for Jake to spare the child is as a favor to his outdated flame. As the 2 males journey out individually to Joe’s hideout, they flash again to a corny, porny shared reminiscence, after they stood aspect by aspect and blasted holes in a cowhide filled with wine, getting frisky because the crimson liquid splashed over their youthful selves (performed by a few male fashions, Jason Fernández and José Condessa, with good cheekbones and no pure performing capacity). Channeling Bob Mizer stag movies and George Quaintance work, Almodóvar goes the place Hollywood by no means dared, exhibiting the 2 studs wrassling and groping each other, whereas a trio of brightly clad ladies excuse themselves from the scene.

Meanwhile again on the ranch, Silva tells his son to skedaddle, however not earlier than Jake exhibits up and tries to arrest him. The three males stand (pose?) with weapons drawn, the homoeroticism crackling greater than the strain as Almodóvar teases which of those caballeros would possibly penetrate the opposite. So far, just about nothing has felt the slightest bit convincing — not the casting, not the garments and definitely not the love story — though the final scene does justify why the director wished two males in these roles. It’s the “Brokeback Mountain” callback the place one cowboy has one other proper the place he needs him: in mattress.

Named for the Caetano Veloso tune one other fairly face (Manu Ríos) lip-syncs over the opening credit, the super-saturated “Strange Way of Life” seems terrific, however doesn’t fairly work dramatically. It doesn’t maintain a candle to his 2020 Tilda Swinton quick, “The Human Voice,” which creatively tailored to the constraints of the pandemic by modernizing the one-act, one-woman Jean Cocteau play. Judging by the abandoned streets of Bitter Creek, “Strange” additionally feels prefer it was made beneath pandemic circumstances — like a observe run for a correct characteristic.

With extra characters and an intensive overhaul of the screenplay, the premise may maintain a full-length movie, though using fashions as a substitute of actors betrays what this actually is: a branding train, each for Almodóvar and costumier Vaccarello, plus two stars keen to point out their allyship. But it doesn’t bode particularly effectively for Saint Laurent-backed options within the works from David Cronenberg and Paolo Sorrentino, seeing as how this quick reduces its queer cowboys to a few garments horses.

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