BIFF 2023 Movie Review – Strange Way of Life

Between Wes Anderson and Pedro Almodovar, the excitement for short film productions from legendary cinematic auteurs in 2023 has been unexpected to say the least! But, while Anderson uses his pastel colours and perfectly framed cinematography to bring the unique world’s of Roald Dahl to life, Almodovar has united with French luxury fashion house Saint Laurent to create the sexiest and most designer clothes driven queer Western short film (or 30 minute long brand awareness campaign for Yves Saint Laurent, Strange Way of Life.

For 25 years, Sherrif Jake (Ethan Hawke) and Silva (Pedro Pascal) have been apart after having passionate sexual encounters with each other during their young adult years. Jake, who is trying to solve the murder of his brother’s wife, is taken off-guard when Silva all of a sudden return, riding several days through the desert just to see Jake after all this time. However, Jake doesn’t buy Silva’s pure desire to see him again as a reason to travel so far, and the connection of Silva’s son and known abuser of Jake’s sister-in-law, drives a rift between the two former lovers.

It should come as no surprise that the slick visual stylings of a director like Pedro Almodovar and the luxurious designs of Yves Saint Laurent have led to a truly stunning looking short film. Almodovar’s hybrid of classic scenic Western landscapes and intimate capturing of humans at their most vulnerable make for an engaging visual feast for the eyes, one that adds a softer touch to the usually masculine dominated world of Western films.

The production design, including the sets and costumes, also add a flamboyant tone that the genre hasn’t seen before. There’s no faulting that Pascal and Hawke look impeccably dressed up, whilst still honouring the traditional looks of a rogue cowboy and sheriff in the midst of a passionate love affair.

And boy, do the two leads bring the passion, with Pascal and Hawke delivering such emotionally and sexually charged performances. The conversations these two characters have with each other ooze lust of a time gone by, and the time past only developing the thirst they have for each other. Especially Pascal, who as Silva, in an attempt to persuade Jake to not pursue his criminal son, uses that sex appeal as an enchanting lure that works on and off screen. Whilst Hawke as Jake has attempted to repress those feelings for so long, that the overwhelming nature of their return creates such a conflicting and engaging arc for him.

Even outside the pure sex that Almodovar wants to convey on screen, the performances showcase the heart within the story. The vulnerability of both actors, in an emotional and physical sense, make for a convincing story about romantic connection. A feeing that is only exacerbated by the expert direction from Almodovar, who captures the love in such an intimate way, even though the tone of the film can feel like a campy telenovela at times, which does feel quite intentional.

The only disappointing aspect of this sex appeal is that it’s all pure tease, as the film leads up to what seems to be a passionate sex scene, only to fade to black, leaving a feeling of unfinished satisfaction in the air. But perhaps, that’s the point, because that was what it must have felt like for Silva and Jake for 25 years!

The glaring issue with Strange Way of Life is that it’s a feature length story of emotions, feelings and humanity told in under 30 minutes. The stylistic Western setting, the pure sexual chemistry between the characters, and the committed performances from Pascal and Hawke cry out for the film to stay around longer so the audience can invest more into their life and love. The rapid pace of the story leads to a hectic climax that obviously feels all to rushed and unsatisfactory.

Strange Way of Life has absolute potential to be expanded into a feature film, and one that would be and incredibly interesting watch from a director like Almodovar. And even though the short film looks and feels brilliant, and showcases amazing performances from Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke, you just can’t help but feel that the film came and went a little too soon… but I guess we’ve all been there before.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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