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One of the more intriguing selections at this year’s Cannes Film Festival — a 30-minute gay Western short film from beloved Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, presented by French fashion house Saint Laurent and starring Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal — finally had its world premiere.
Almodóvar, for one, was pleased as punch to see a capacity crowd seated inside the Théâtre Claude Debussy on a rain-soaked Wednesday afternoon to take in his Strange Way of Life.
“This is the best place to be in the world now, at least for me,” Almodovar said during brief remarks ahead of the screening. “You are the first audience that is going to see my new movie. You will be the first reaction. We are nervous and very excited at the same time.”
Almodóvar’s emotions are understandable considering he’s a Cannes legend who served as president of the jury in 2017 in addition to debuting so many of his works at the Palais. “What can I say?” he continued before motioning to the cast assembled next to him at center stage including Hawke, George Steane, Jason Fernández, José Condessa and Manuel Rios. “The beauties that I’m with…but they are also very good actors.” He thanked them for trusting him, which made production “very easy” for him.
Strange Way of Life opens with Pascal’s Silva riding a horse across the desert to visit an old friend Jake, who now works as the country sheriff. They haven’t seen each another in 25 years after a lovestruck, two-month escapade in Mexico. Upon reuniting, they share a home-cooked meal followed by an “orgiastic” night. However, the next morning ulterior motives are revealed, pushing them toward a dangerous duel.
“I wanted to make a classic Western where I talk about the desire between two cowboys,” offered Almodóvar during the post-screening Q&A billed as a fest “Rendezvous.” He shared his take on recent entries in the genre from filmmakers like Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Chloé Zhao (The Rider) and, of course, Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain), though he said he sees his short as “the first really queer Western.” (He got big laughs when he said that Campion’s film is ambivalent about the sexuality of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character and “they didn’t fuck.”)
For the record, Strange Way of Life doesn’t show its leads doing the deed, either. In one tender moment, Hawke kisses Pascal’s neck before cutting to the next morning to reveal the aftermath of their night of passion with Pascal laying face down on the bed to reveal his bare butt. “My movies have had many scenes of explicit sex but as time goes by I want to show pleasure in another way,” added Almodóvar.
One member of the team was noticeably absent as Pascal reportedly could not make it due to commitments on Ridley Scott’s Gladiator sequel. But his name came up many times during the Q&A. Toward the end of the session, Hawke offered up the highest of compliments to his co-star when asked about what it was like to play lovers with the Last of Us leading man.
“I like to be wanted, you know I don’t care. If it happens to be a very attractive, extremely talented man, all the better,” said Hawke.
He also liked stepping into the boots of his character. “What I loved about the sheriff, about Jake, is there’s a way that we are and there’s a way we want to be, and they’re often not the same. It creates a conflict whether you’re straight or whether you’re gay. There’s ways that we wish we were and we often go through our lives pretending to be that way and it creates cracks in us and it creates lies in us. The process of maturing is having less of those cracks and less of those lies. And I felt Jake was a great character because of that.”
Hawke also elaborated on the concept of love, which he believes is sewn into every performance. “The second you take out a camera and you start photographing people, there’s some act of love that is happening where you are saying that these people are important and worthy of time. And the things they’re feeling are important and the things they’re thinking are important and worthy of us all to consider. So, for me, it’s kind of always about love in some capacity. What moves us is what we want, what we love. Desire makes the world spin around.”
The Strange Way of Life team spun around Cannes a bit more on Wednesday following the screening. They made a splash on the Palais red carpet in the evening before taking in the premiere of Monster. Almodóvar, Hawke, Steane, Condessa, Fernandez and Rios were all decked out in Saint Laurent and accompanied by the house’s creative director Anthony Vaccarello, their creative collaborator who served as the film’s costume designer.
No word on whether they were able to dig into the reviews which broke after the world premiere. The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney praised the film as “compact, heady and beguiling,” writing that the film’s final lines “about what two men living on a ranch together could do for each other, are a moving affirmation of queer love flourishing in the least likely places.”
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