Melodrama / Random / Melbourne!

(Matthew Victor Pastor, Australia, 2018)


Melodrama / Random / Melbourne! (which had its Australian Premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival on October 14, 2018) is an 80 minute feature built up as a mosaic-collage; some parts intersect and overlap, others don’t. In a sense, it’s a street-life film: it’s on the street that people wander about, shop, talk, commit crimes, get assaulted, shoot footage (whether as social media selfies or for documentary projects).


Not content to have merely a multiplicity of characters and plot situations, Pastor also generates multiple filmic styles: the rendering of its many scenes and events ranges in tone from naturalism to Wong Kar-wai-type neon lyricism, and from first-person-diary to mocked-up video-musical (or rather ‘Cinema-o-ke’) segments. There are documentary scenes in black-and-white, and dictionary definitions imprinted on screen. Throughout, Pastor maintains good control of the material, of most of the acting performances, and of the image/sound montage – the film has an overall clarity that is often scarce in ultra-low-budget productions. It’s full of social and personal rage, but it’s not punk cinema per se.


It’s also a film with a multiplicity of voices, of points-of-view. Angry monologues jostle alongside considered voice-over reflections; testy interview segments give way to an editing-room discussion on how to best represent issues of gender and race (conclusion: nobody knows). Pastor gives us – and this is fairly unique – a breathless panorama of Asian-Australian experience, much of it far from pretty.


From the outset, Pastor’s vision – especially as it pertains to masculinity and female/male relations – projects a bleakness that is hugely reminiscent of Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993). The motor of much of the action is an unlovely little entrepreneurial business for the Internet age named TMD or Tru Male Dynamics: here, the obnoxiously self-styled ‘Garistar’ (Elliot Ng) imparts his wisdom on how guys can be expert pick-up artists, targeting any stray woman on the street for casual and completely alienated sex. In one of the film’s most strikingly achieved moments, a TMD client wanders off after a chosen girl; they cross paths with another woman whose path the camera picks up and follows; then that second woman is suddenly hit on by Garistar.


There are many traces of Jean-Luc Godard (new and old) in this film – beginning from its division into three parts and topics, although (also Godard-like), the topics spread across all parts and the section headings are largely interchangeable (because it all happens in Melbourne, random violence spreads everywhere, and it’s all a melodrama of one kind or another)! Masculin féminin (1965) is another big influence here: not only in its gender-divide theme and the constant spectacle of senseless street violence, but also in the gunshots heard on the soundtrack, and the play on tense durations of waiting, solitude, frazzlement. Bande à part (1964) may have suggested another of the best moments, very early on: the time-coded countdown of a guy waiting (for exactly three minutes) for his Internet date to show up – with, all the while, that very woman (Bridget O’Brien as Aries, the documentarian) spying on (and timing) him from around a nearby corner.


Like many mosaic films, Melodrama / Random / Melbourne! encounters problems sustaining itself – the overall structure, while avoiding predictability from moment to moment and scene to scene, nonetheless falls, eventually, into a kind of static groove (and I did think there were a few too many cinema-o-ke scenes, particularly when the same songs by Fergus Cronkite come around again). By the mid-way, 40 minute mark, it’s hard not to feel that the film has already made most of its strongest points, and is now stretching itself, playing for time.


Happily, the third part (Melbourne!) takes a different tack: more contemplative, with long, wide takes and a dance sequence, it weaves (Tsai Ming-liang style) the intriguing family tree of Aries, her sister Angela (Celina Yuen, also co-scriptwriter of the project), and their mother Agnes (Rachel E. Javier) – all of whom seem more-or-less unaware of each others’ intimate lives and involvements, and particularly the sisters’ shared connection to the TMD monstrosity. As Aries states in a slightly too-spelt-out monologue, in this always-connected world of communications, we are still all too confused and disconnected.


Along the current wave of interest in a ‘new Australian cinema’ rising up from the underground, Melodrama / Random / Melbourne! rides high. Pastor is an energetic and prolific filmmaker worth keeping tabs on.


Last Time

(Allison Chhorn, Australia, 2018)


Also screened at the Adelaide Film Festival session of 14 October 2018 – curated by this site’s webmaster, Bill Mousoulis – was Allison Chhorn’s short film Last Time (2018), which had its World Premiere screening. I shall be returning to Chhorn’s body of work as a whole, because it is very impressive. The tone and approach of Last Time could not be more different to Pastor’s feature: crystalline, poised, wordless, highly condensed to the point of elliptical but suggestive mystery.


‘Last’ as in the previous, or the ultimate? That’s the question for a woman and man (Bianca Conry and Russell Lucas) who meet up in a car park: she waits in the vehicle, while he approaches, holding a dress that belongs to her. The sight and thought of that dress instantly trigger memories of touch, traces of intimacy, an everyday togetherness (enacted in that same park) now clearly dissipated, gone. It is, in its own hushed way, a moment of reckoning, of cleaning-up and giving-back after a relationship has ended. The pause of the ex-boyfriend outside the car – the view is angled down onto his shoes – speaks volumes about the awkward intensity of this all-too-familiar situation. Chhorn takes what is mundane and universal in this scenario and knocks it off-kilter with her finely chiselled cinematic style.


The flow of images across different moods, temporalities and intersubjective sensations suggests an immersion in the cinema of Alain Resnais and Claire Denis; while the remarkably composed and staged images push into Antonioni-and-beyond territory, reminiscent of Teresa Villaverde: deframings of bodies, blurred focus, enigmatic views of the backs of heads, reflections on the car windscreen that overwhelm the human figures within. The ambient noises of the park are crisp and well-placed, intermingled with spare musical tones (I assume that virtually everything on the technical plane, cinematography and soundtrack alike, is due to Chhorn herself). And all in four and a half minutes. Last Time is a gem.


MORE Chhorn: Unslept & The Plastic House

© Adrian Martin October 2018

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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