Pedro Almodóvar at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), September 2023 (REUTERS/Carlos Osorio)
Pedro Almodóvar feels with the same freedom and passion as at the beginning of his career. After the recent premiere of Extraña forma de vida, the 73-year-old Spanish director says that the short allows him greater experimentation than the feature film and adds that the idea that a film should last an hour and a half or more no longer exists. In his latest film, the man from La Mancha once again portrays the male universe and ventures to reinterpret the western genre.
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“I am still passionate about cinema, that is, I only do it out of passion; If I don’t feel passionate about a script, I don’t take the next step, which is to start preparing the film,” he says in an interview in which Infobae Cultura participated along with other Latin American media.
In Strange Way of Life, the short film that premiered in cinemas in Argentina and the region (it will arrive on Mubi on October 20), Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal play Sheriff Jake and Cowboy Silva, who meet again 25 years later of having had a passionate romance. Jake is a tough man who seems to refuse what his feelings dictate. While Silva is a cowboy more in tune with his emotions he is not afraid to express what he feels.
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The film, in part, could be seen as a response to the gay western Brokeback Mountain, which Almodóvar at the time rejected and which was finally directed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who won the Oscar for best director. In some interviews, the Spanish filmmaker has said that the film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger lacked sex.
Trailer for ‘Strange Way of Life’
“I believe that in this very masculine genre (western), both desire and tenderness, and even melancholy, are feelings that have never been linked to men. And they are feelings, if not prohibited, at least not developed in male characters. In fact, in many interviews they have told me how they were surprised by the last scenes in which the sheriff is injured and Silva is healing him, because the surprise is that they assumed he was a man instead of a woman; That is, our head is organized in a way in which in a scene of that type we have always seen that it is a woman who cares, heals,” says Almodóvar.
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The filmmaker’s intention with Strange Way of Life was to break the canon of masculine coldness, of those characters with a dry and arid behavior that are common in classic Westerns. Instead, his interest lay in having the protagonists speak and behave in the territory of desire, eroticism and tenderness.
Regarding the choice of Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal as protagonists, Almodóvar says that he needed two actors who were completely opposite, even physically, and who belonged to two different cultures. That one was cold, Anglo-Saxon, hermetic and the other was the opposite: warm, tender and without fear of talking about his desires.
“I think they are both superb and I am very happy, for example, for Pedro Pascal, because I think he has not yet had the opportunity to show that he is a very versatile actor. I mean, he has had great successes playing epic roles, but there wasn’t much tenderness in those characters and here he really does almost the opposite,” he says.
Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke in “Strange Way of Life” (Photo: courtesy of MUBI press)
For the film, the filmmaker was inspired by a variety of classic American Westerns such as The Last Train to Gun Hill, Duel of the Titans, El Dorado, among many others. He was also meticulous in choosing design and costume elements, seeking to avoid anachronisms. Anthony Vaccarello, artistic director of YSL, contributed to the production, especially the costume design that references iconic films of the genre.
Regarding his decision to direct a short film again, Almodóvar believes that the feature film has a greater relationship with reality and, on the other hand, in the small format the story can be approached in a more experimental way. And he adds that what he writes sometimes demands a certain length that is not always for an hour and a half film. “There are times when you suddenly have an idea, you develop it and that idea only lasts 30 minutes,” he says.
On the other hand, after having directed the shorts The Human Voice, starring Tilda Swinton, and Strange Way of Life, he found in Hawke, Pascal and Swinton three actors whom he liked directing and with whom he wants to work again.
Pedro Almodóvar and Tilda Swinton at the start of filming of “The Human Voice”, in 2020 (Photo: Agustín Almodóvar via Europa Press)
In Parallel Mothers (2021), Almodóvar vindicated Spanish historical memory and defended the moral debt to the victims of Francoism. This was the first film in which he touched on an explicitly political theme. Now, the Spanish director sees with concern the advance of the extreme right not only in his country but in the rest of the world.
“Until five years ago I thought that in Spain we were really cured of that because the civil war is still in everyone’s minds, which was so traumatic that we have not yet overcome it. However, I believe that what we are experiencing is one of the evil effects of Trump’s emergence on the world political scene, which woke up all those totalitarian and far-right politicians and suddenly Bolsonaro began to appear in Brazil, Meloni in Italy and here it woke up the extreme right,” he says.
The filmmaker affirms that it is time to start defending rights that had already been achieved through much struggle and believes that the world is going through a very delicate moment, which is going down an uncertain path, with many changes.
“Within the small position that I represent in the culture of this country, I try to react to everything that seems unfair to me and to also support all the causes that also seem fair to me, because it is a very dangerous moment for everyone and for you in Argentina too.” ”, he concludes.