Matthew Victor Pastor

by Bill Mousoulis

rhapsody / n. a one-movement musical work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality.

Matthew Victor Pastor (MVP as he cheekily likes to say) is Australia’s most dynamic filmmaker at the moment. He is still largely unknown, but this will change. He is only 29, but he has already completed 5 feature films, a mini-feature, and several shorts. He may burn out, like one of his heroes Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but he may also flourish even more in his 30s, 40s and beyond. But one thing is incontrovertible – he has already achieved more than most past or present Australian filmmakers. I mean in terms of quality.

In terms of quantity, his output is off the charts. He currently has three features completed in 2018, now screening (or about to screen) in film festivals: MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! (2018, 81 mins), MAGANDA! Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man (2018, 98 mins), and Repent or Perish! (2018, 85 mins). The exclamation marks and upper case titling are intentional – a small indicator of his idiosyncrasy. (At the time of writing, MELODRAMA has recently had its World Premiere in Manila, whilst MAGANDA! and Repent or Perish! await their World Premieres.)

Prior to this, he made BUTTERFLY FLOWER: Please Wait to Be Seated. (2017, 70 mins, co-directed with Lisac Pham), his VCA (Victorian College of the Arts) film I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET (2016, 15 mins), his debut feature MADE IN AUSTRALIA (2013, 82 mins), some other shorts, and his debut film, the mini-feature LOVE with the POET (2010, 52 mins).

References? Think Wong with a bit of Godard, and Cassavetes. Wong with his melancholia, and splintered relationships in cityscapes, Godard with his formalistic play with titles and sound/music, and Cassavetes with his raw emotion and constant team around him. Pastor is a cinephile, it is true, but even with these influences he creates a distinctive, individual cinema, especially within the context of Australian cinema.

Made in Australia – or should I say “born”? – Pastor is an Asian-Australian millennial with Filipino-Malaysian blood. Both his age and his heritage mark him. He keeps his ties with Asia, with the Philippines, shooting films there, but he has also shot films in Hong Kong and Vietnam, and he loves the Filipino gang of film directors, and other Asian filmmakers like Hong Sang-soo. He is almost the sheer definition of “New Australian”. Yet he is not embraced as yet by the film community in Australia, especially the major film festivals, which must screen his work this year.


For me, MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! is an outrageously good film. It’s almost like a “dream cinema”, where the director is so free and inspired that absolutely anything is possible on the screen. And especially on the soundtrack. Pastor edits his films himself, and his sound design work on his films is brilliant, the way it blends city sounds with dialogue with music and other effects. In MELODRAMA, every now and then, the narrative flow is punctured (and practically interrupted) by a karaoke-like “Cinema-O-ke!” interlude, with a flashing sign on the screen warning us “This may induce real emotions”, before the song kicks in, with the lyrics printed on the screen. These Cinema-O-ke interludes are reasonably similar to conventional music montages we see in films, but the sheer boldness of the idea sends the film flying.

But here’s the catch. These playful, beautiful, melancholic-yet-joyful songs (by Fergus Cronkite) are actually in complete contrast to the narrative itself, which is mainly about desperation and disjunction. In a completely splintered narrative, we see various males, Asian and non-Asian, who feel emasculated in their relationships with women, and end up lashing out at themselves or others. It’s down-beat and edgy at times, this film. But there’s also the female side, with two sisters (one a documentary filmmaker, the other a prostitute) and their estranged Filipino mother, the themes of displacement and confusion hanging in the air heavily.

The two sisters are played by Celina Yuen and Bridget O’Brien, who are stellar actresses, and they both play in Repent or Perish! as well. Repent or Perish! is also a terrific film, more conventional than MELODRAMA, but just as dynamic. Pastor is a great director of actors, even if the form of his films (and their editing) is his strongest quality. He is able to take scenes that are conventionally “dramatic”, as in this film, and still have them resonate truthfully. And the more “ordinary” scenes are also wonderful, as we the comings and goings of a Filipino family, the father, and his daughter and son. Unbeknownst to the father, his children are hustling, with sex and drugs, and the inference is that life in Australia is very expensive. And unbeknownst to the kids, the father is experiencing an existential crisis, his wife having suicided, and he attracted to a young woman.

Repent or Perish!

The theme of love is not a major one for Pastor, but he tackles it in Repent or Perish! All three members of the main family we see are in love. The son, in the middle of all his hustling, has a boyfriend, and the daughter, in the middle of all her hustling, has a boyfriend too. Conflict ensues, with both couples, but there is hope for them. The father (a heartbreaking performance by Alfred Nicdao) however, has a tender connection with the young woman, but it is doomed of course, leaving him both haunted by his wife’s death, and confused by his new place in the world. Before the wife suicided, she prayed for her family. Pastor shows us that life is messy though, beyond any Christian prayers. The characters do indeed “repent”, but not in any simplistic way. These themes (love and spiritual connection) are not Pastor’s forte at the moment, but with time, he will be able to make them resonate in a deeper way.

Stylistically, Pastor is in full flourish in Repent or Perish! He revels in the lively hand-held camera shots and zippy editing, the music (Fergus Cronkite features again), the touching voice-overs from the characters, the documentary interludes. Only the blue tinge that covers the whole film mars it slightly.

The other new film at the moment, MAGANDA! Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man, is completely different and a complete hoot. This time, Pastor abandons the multi-character narrative, and has his film in two clear parts, each with a solid narrative. In the first part, he himself plays a filmmaker, Angelo, and the characterisation hovers somewhere between an autobiographical portrait and a comic take on a Woody Allen-esque neurotic character. In fact, Pastor also reprises some shots of himself (he performs in almost all his films, even if in small roles) from earlier films, creating a wonderfully philosophical self-reflexive self-portrait for the film’s opening. After that, we see the regular themes, that are in most of the films: the dysfunction of the Filipino family in Australia, the drugs and sex the 2nd generation indulge in, the abuse and violence that arise, the racism suffered by the family. The scenes with Angelo’s mother (played by Pastor’s real life mother Carol Pastor) are priceless, but the scenes with his ex-girlfriend Jupiter (Celina Yuen again) drag a little.

MAGANDA! Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man

The second part of the film, which alternates with the first in the structure, is, of all things, a spoof of a giallo film! Pastor has incredible fun here, imitating the look and sound of an ‘80s exploitation film, and revelling in the comic possibilities of it all. But the themes are on point. We see a mysterious figure, in a white body suit that covers his face too, the “Milk Man”, who is killing off Asian females in Melbourne, and our hero, Pinoy Boy, flown in directly from the Philippines, to fight off this dastardly serial killer. And Pastor has great fun towards the end, as the two stories meld into each other.

A highly entertaining film, it features some very distinctive performances by a number of the actors – the aforementioned Carol Pastor (with her kooky voice), Kokie Kaneko as the Milk Man (with some great body moves), and Kristen Condon as a victim’s friend (with brilliant stylisation of her expressions and voice). Gregory Pakis also appears, as he does in a couple of Pastor’s other films, such as MELODRAMA and I am JUPITER (where he is particularly effective).

Another great actor presence in Pastor’s work is Lisac Pham, who takes the lead role in the feature completed in 2017, BUTTERFLY FLOWER: Please Wait To Be Seated. She plays a prostitute who becomes a madam in later years, and she puts in a composed and confident performance. She also directed the film along with Pastor. So the film has a different feel to it. It’s actually a more hardcore art cinema feel, Tsai Ming-liang style, with long takes. Which doesn’t always work, some of them are too long, but it’s a film of great beauty in a way, with a transcendental feel, which the other films lack.

BUTTERFLY FLOWER: Please Wait to Be Seated.

Lisac Pham also features in the VCA short film I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET, along with some other actresses, as Pastor delves into a Filipino red-light district. It’s an astonishingly assured film from Pastor, as he must have been keen to impress with his graduating film. As mentioned above, Gregory Pakis stars in this film, as a cocky Anglo man fucking (and seemingly beating) his way through the red-light area. He doesn’t have it all his own way though, as some of the girls rebel.

Of all the girls, Lisac Pham steals the show as she stands facing the camera, in close-up, and pours a bottle of milk all over her head and face. Milk is a key symbol for the cinema of Pastor. It features in most of his films, usually poured over people, usually to demean. It is the symbol of life, and also semen, and whilst it seems to be a positive symbol for most cultures, Pastor makes it more complex, also equating it with racism (thus the “Milk Man” is a man who must kill Asians).


Whilst I am JUPITER is tour-de-force cinema, with high production values, I feel it has its flaws. This is the irony – the production makes the film look “beautiful”, but that is perhaps not appropriate for the subject matter, as it aestheticises the suffering of the girls. I prefer the features Pastor has made on his own, without much money, rather than the glossiness and perfect camera moves of I am JUPITER. (Which may be a taste of what’s to come for Pastor, if he can make a name for himself in the years ahead – so, a warning, here, to this talented director.)

Continuing the track backwards in Pastor’s career, in 2013 he released his debut feature MADE IN AUSTRALIA. It has some of the eclectic style of the later features, but it is much more focused on the story at hand, and the characters. This is his most Cassevetian film, clearly. Pastor himself again stars, this time pretty much playing himself, Matthew Victor Pastor, but obviously still transposed to the form of a fiction. His real-life mother Carol Pastor also plays herself (again, like in MAGANDA!).


It is a great, captivating performance from Pastor, as he goes from relationship to relationship, and country to country. Half the film is set in Australia, the other half in Hong Kong. Fittingly, as he walks drunk around Hong Kong, wearing shades, he resembles a young Wong Kar-wai. It’s a lacerating (literally at times too) self-portrait, the themes thick with detail. Identity, sexuality, family, it’s probably Pastor’s PhD thesis on his life. We can only guess of course how much of it is “real” and how much is “fiction”, but that doesn’t matter – it’s a film, after all, the characters and themes are right there, it doesn’t matter what’s based on reality or not.

For an earlier film of Pastor’s, MADE IN AUSTRALIA is very strong. Unlike his debut film, LOVE with the POET, the 52-minute film from 2010, when Pastor was still a very young man (20 years of age). This debut film has some nice things in it, but it’s too fey, too pretty, not yet infused with the grunt and style of Pastor’s later work. It comes across like a typical minimalist American indie film in a way, not a dynamic work like the subsequent films do.

LOVE with the POET

Apart from being dynamic, Pastor’s films are also, for me, very pleasurable. He has serious themes, sure, and, as I stated when writing about Repent or Perish!, he can get more serious at some point, but, I can unequivocally say that his cinema is so playful, so colourful, so inventive, that I am getting extreme pleasure from his work. I wish him well.


Bill Mousoulis is a Greek-Australian independent filmmaker since 1982, and occasional writer on film.

Published March 27 2018. © Bill Mousoulis 2018