Although handsomely shot by Almodóvar’s frequent cinematographer, José Luis Alcaine, with the desert region of Almería passing for somewhere north of Mexico, in the dusty fictional cowboy town of Bitter Creek, “Strange Way of Life” is so short it feels truncated when it ends, abruptly. This is partly due to the nice performances delivered by Ethan Hawke as Bitter Creek’s sheriff Jake and Pedro Pascal as his former lover Silva, who reunite 25 years after a brief two-month affair in Mexico and immediately fall into bed. The characters’ youthful fling is briefly shown in a flashback featuring Jason Fernández and José Condessa as the young Jake and Silva — a silly interlude featuring bullet-pierced wine skins, a couple of disappointed prostitutes and some erotic wrassling in the cellar.
But the acting by Hawke and Pascal, who make palpable the pull of Jake and Silva’s connection, as well as the impossibility of it, is strong enough, and the chemistry real enough, to make you want more.
Almodóvar’s writing, however, is weak, due to a story involving so much exposition about past and present — involving an old affair between Jake and his sister-in-law and the investigation of a more recent murder in which Silva’s son (George Steane) is the prime suspect — that Jake and Silva’s love story gets crowded out by conversation that’s only meant to bring us, and not the main characters, up to speed. Ostensibly the reason for making the film, not to mention going to see it in a theater, the narrative of a revived relationship gets jammed into a few minutes, arriving at a violent inflection point before it’s over as suddenly as it began.
It’s certainly possible to tell a moving story in under 40 minutes. There’s a whole category of the Oscars — live-action short — devoted to those micro-movies. But this one is both too good and not long enough. When the closing credits of “Strange Way of Life” pop up, like an intrusion on a reverie, you might find yourself wondering: What happened to the rest of it?
R. At area theaters. Contains some sexual situations, strong language, violence and bloody images. In English and brief Spanish with some subtitles. 31 minutes.