When aspiring Melbourne filmmaker Matt Pastor, playing himself in his debut feature Made in Australia (a semi-autobiographical film shot guerrilla style) is threatened by the husband of a woman he was just having sex with, he recalls a time two years ago when he travelled to Hong Kong after a break up. There, he got caught up in a messy relationship with an older woman, Janice Keung, a ‘gold digger’ who he discovers is the mistress of a wealthy man. Unable to reconcile this he returns to Australia and embarks on a series of ill-fated relationships that lead him to the conclusion that filmmaking is the one thing that’s real in his life.
Made in Australia is Pastor’s unflinching but somewhat ham-fisted study of his own sexual, racial and creative insecurities. These are the intended big themes (essentially the film is Pastor’s coming of age story), but they don’t always gel easily, and are pulled together awkwardly into the narrative.
There are things to like, such as Pastor’s unnerving willingness to put himself through numerous, cringe-worthy scenes of abject humiliation, and the delicately affecting performance of Janice Keung, his then real-life, older girlfriend portraying herself in the film. The section where we meet Janice for the first time and her voiceover introducing herself and her situation is a marvellous little vignette that hints at a complexity of story and character that the rest of the film never quite achieves. The style of the film is effective enough, the guerrilla approach suiting the pseudo-documentary feel that the filmmakers were after, but overall, the film itself is painfully written and adolescently earnest.
For all its intended themes, we don’t get to fully appreciate them in the narrative cluttered with sexually neurotic interruptions or distractions. Pastor’s character’s cluelessness about whether Janice is cheating on him is drawn out for far too long. Unfortunately, this central concern is what drives the tension for about a third of the film, the time spent in Hong Kong, and it becomes increasingly implausible and ridiculous. There is a missed opportunity in this relationship as by far the most interesting and complete character is Janice and her quiet resilience is in stark contrast to her melodramatic young beau.
There isn’t much given of the creatively passionate side of Pastor’s character that is meant to be an important part his identity, and that causes conflict with his parents, in particular with his mother. This aspect of his character is revealed mostly through the unsatisfactory telling of a clichéd relationship between a tiger mother (Pastor’s parents are played by his actual parents, somewhat of a coup given the subject matter) and her wayward son in the few flashback scenes between the two. Indeed, Pastor’s character seems mostly preoccupied with sex until the end.
Generally, the dialogue acts as a blunt instrument with which the characters bludgeon each other. Sometimes it can be plain baffling as outlandish things are said without precedent. Towards the end of their relationship, when Pastor is begging Janice for sex because he ‘just wants to feel some love’ and Janice reveals that she can’t because she’s having her period, he responds with, ‘I want your blood all over my dick because if you’re fucking somebody else, it’s going to be the only way that I can catch whatever disease he has.’
There are a number of these inexplicable, WTF moments. The first is when the title of the film appears over Pastor’s penis at the very start. Pastor’s small penis anxiety narrative is another that’s never really examined with any detail, although it’s mentioned enough to be important, and provides ample opportunity for his humiliation. On their own these unsatisfactory narratives (the frustrated creative, the Asian identity crisis, the loneliness in modern relationships) struggle for coherence and their lack of depth isn’t improved being wound together in the film. However, there’s a sprinkling of filmmaker Tommy Wiseau’s genius in Made in Australia, so while much of the film is impossible, it’s also strangely compelling.
Made in Australia is an ardent statement made by a young, ambitious filmmaker that is loaded with enthusiastic sincerity but that falls short in a number of ways. Although, having said all of that, enthusiasm does go a long way.
Made in Australia won Best Guerrilla Film at the 2013 Melbourne Underground Film Festival.
Editor’s note: Made in Australia is currently raising funds for post-production through Pozible. For details – click here