I first met Matthew Victor Pastor on a train station platform in Melbourne, perhaps seven years ago, when he was a film student. Since then, Pastor has gone on to create several award-winning short films, as well as his self-exploratory full-length feature, Made in Australia, which won Best Guerilla Film at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival 2013.
Made in Australia is a tell-all autobiographical tale that engulfs the viewer with its rawness and intimacy. We are compelled to keep watching this downward spiral of colliding relationships almost out of a sense of voyeurism and horrified curiosity. The lines between fact and fiction are blurred, as some actors, or “players”, portray themselves, including Pastor, his Hong Kong amour Janice Keung, and his parents.
Pastor takes the viewer on his coming-of-age story. From the opening scenes of Janice, naked and sobbing in a bathtub, and Pastor, standing nude on a beach with all his imperfections in front of the camera, the viewer knows at once that this is a film that won’t hold back. We travel with him from his present-day relationships back to the Hong Kong of several years ago, and to his tumultuous affair with an older woman. The film explores themes of humiliation, “losing face”, identity, the collision of Western and Chinese cultures, and the full spectrum of human emotion. Pastor doesn’t shy away from showing the messy, bitter nature of intimate relationships, and the way they fall apart.
Pastor plays himself commendably. He has a manner that is wonderfully self-deprecating and yet, somehow, narcissistic and over-dramatic. His youthful character, who gives way to all his emotions, runs into traffic impulsively, and shouts out unrealistically melodramatic phrases almost as though he just wants to see their effect on the other, contrasts with the reserved, composed, sad, and fascinating Janice, who has a story of her own that we only glimpse in pieces.
One of the best moments of the film was a freeze-frame in the midst of heightened tension, when Pastor’s voiceover states “people act very strange when they lose face”. Pastor prods at the Asian phenomenon of “losing face,” ie. losing respect, dignity, sense of self-worth, but never really pursues this theme further. The film has several of these moments that hint at more powerful themes but ultimately zooms back in to the tale of the protagonists.
I enjoyed the patient, tense editing of Made in Australia and the wonderful use of silence, static and basic colours. The gritty feel of Hong Kong was also conveyed through detailed shots of apartment blocks, abandoned lots, discarded rubble, views of the bay, hotel rooms, elevators and little details inside the apartments.
Overall, Made in Australia is a striking debut film that is brutally honest and bursting with lust and emotion. It’s an interesting exploration of the lies we tell ourselves and others, and the various faces we wear in the hope of achieving happiness. Pastor has a clear obsession with personal stories, emotions to the brink of madness, and relationships. He tells his own tale unflinchingly.