Sometimes double the pleasure is double the fun…
It’s rare to get a double feature that’s going to get you in and out of the theatre in about an hour, but that unique experience is going on as we speak in select theatres now. With Strange Way of Life & The Human Voice currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (and select other theatres in limited run) we get two distinct and original pieces of cinema from the one and only Pedro Almodóvar, working in English for the first times.
In Strange Way of Life we meet Silva (Pedro Pascal) who rides across the desert from his ranch to the town of Bitter Creek, where Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke) lives. Silva and Jake haven’t seen each other for 25 years since their wild days as hired gunslingers and secret lovers in Mexico (their young selves played in flashback by José Condessa and Jason Fernández, respectively). The morning after celebrating their reunion, Jake says he knows that Silva isn’t just here to go down memory lane… To say more would give away the surprises of the story.
Almodóvar gets his Sergio Leone on in the only way he knows how by giving us something that is simply gorgeous and washed in colour from top to bottom. The only genuine tension here is sexual, but it’s never overt as Almodóvar is making a comment on the modern western and how it’s defined in the annals of masculinity with everyone dressed in Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello but also the nature of male relationships and their predisposition to go toxic whenever a threat is perceived to their ‘manhood’. It puts the ideas of Brokeback Mountain into a much more succinct package.
While this could have gotten tiresome in long form, seeing this at a lean and mean 31 minutes makes this work as a piece of art of slice of humanity that has never quite got it’s due like it does here. It’s simple, beautiful and to the point.
The Human Voice (which is also available to stream on MUBI now) is a wonderful exercise in letting an actor work to the heights of their powers when they are given room to work.
A woman (Tilda Swinton) watches time passing next to the suitcases of her ex-lover (who is supposed to come pick them up, but never arrives) and a restless dog who doesn’t understand that his master has abandoned him.
With The Human Voice, Almodóvar gives us a fantastic piece of work (that we all first saw during the pandemic) that speaks to the need to move on and be emotionally self-sufficient after an instance of perceived abandonment.
Still with his trademark swatches of colour, this is actually a much more sparse film as he lets his character essentially move between the boundaries of the setting. Is it an apartment; is it a soundstage where a character exercise is playing out? It’s both as our character is working out her demons and anxieties in real time.
Adapted from the work of Jean Cocteau; noted French Playwright, Poet and Filmmaker this works as well as it does because it has an actor who know how to carry the frame from minute one.
Any day of the week, we’d willingly watch Tilda Swinton read the phone book but here she is in peak form commanding the screen as a woman on the brink who is slowly talking her way back from the ledge. It’s yet another powerful and humanistic performance in a body of work that we could wax poetic about until we are all blue in the face.
No matter where you see either of these films by Almodóvar, this is simply unique cinema that deserves to be appreciated and serves as a bench mark for how important the short form of cinema can truly be.