Locarno Talent: Q&A With Swiss Director Matthias Huser on Filming His Picturesque ‘Experience’ in Poland

Matthias Huser Interview

As a first time feature film director at the Locarno Film Festival, Matthias Huser is in amazement. Raised in Switzerland, Huser returns to his home country to celebrate the world premiere of his new film, “They Chased Me Through Arizona,” which Huser wrote and directed in Poland, a nation whose culture he had very little experience with. With a Polish cast and crew, Huser took to the fields and landscapes of Poland to shoot his feature, a mysterious story that follows Leonard, a man trying to overcome the loss of his marriage, and Ben, a convict on parole, as they go about the vast countryside removing now defunct phone booths. “They Chased Me Through Arizona” premieres at the Locarno Film Festival on Wednesday.

Q: Every synopses and plot point describing your film seems to be exceedingly vague, mentioning themes of romance and discovery, but without explicitly describing what actions your characters take. Why is that?

It’s not a plot point-driven film. It’s not about having a plot and a turning point, the whole plot is a real trip. It has a beginning, a middle part and an ending, but it’s not about having action in it or a twist or a turn, its more an emotional trip and a film where – like when you go in a museum you can stand in front of paintings, and you can see things or you can feel something or just be involved in these pictures. So every synopsis or every try to find a plot point or surprise or twist, I’m really far away from that because I believe to tell a story in pictures, to give an audience an experience, doesn’t always have to do with telling a “story” story. It’s like reading a book and then you see something.

Q: Where does the inspiration for such “experience”-driven work come from?

I have two major parts which I am very interested in. One is photography and paintings. The other part is, I was a massive TV junkie as a child. From the ‘80s to the ‘90s I watched all the American blockbusters. I have a huge amount of footage in my brain of all these stories and combinations, especially of how to show people in certain kinds of communications in the frame. I’m a very visual guy and I really tried to combine my feeling to the world and my formalistic way of showing pictures and photography in combination with my footage. Actually, it’s like the collective memory we all have from the American films, American blockbusters, especially when I mention Coppola or even Spielberg and a bunch of industry films. I’m really a mutant of this time, and of paintings and photography.

Q: For your first feature film, why did you decide to shoot outside of your home country of Switzerland?

It’s like when you play in a music band. You want to be in a band, you want to be in a group, you want to share an adventure with friends. For me, this is a major issue. And of course you can explore yourself and explore sights in yourself. You really discover yourself. That’s why I went to Poland, I have no connection to Poland, I don’t speak polish, just the connection that I went there 10 years ago. Just the architecture, the landscape; there you can see the horizon in the distance, and that’s really a fantastic feeling. And the best is that you’re a stranger. When you’re a stranger somewhere and you don’t speak the language and actors are strangers, you’re not in your comfort zone. And when you’re not in your comfort zone, it’s like you’re in space; you just have to catch what you can. It’s quite fantastic.

Q: The general feel of your film seems somewhat surrealistic, while also containing elements of a western. Is this what you intended?

I really tried to make a film, and I think it worked out, to make it universal and make it parable. I didn’t want to have it located in a certain time or a certain country. That’s why I really tried to make the combination of the architecture and the landscape and the clothes and the American approach of these pictures – not to get stuck in this barrier of, “It’s a contemporary film,” or “It’s an old film.” I would never say its old fashioned or it belongs to the past. I work with the existing forms and try to make a combination, also with modern elements. Also, if you want to tell something universal, maybe it’s better to keep it simple, to make it like when a child is drawing. When a child draws a tree, its one line up and a circle, it’s a tree. To tell it simple, and universal, I was really working on this simplicity. If the viewer can’t follow in the first moments, it’s mysterious. But when you watch the film, when it’s done, they accept it how it is.

Q: Do you have inspiration for your next feature?

I have an idea. It’s not yet fixed, but I would love to go into the jungle to make a film about a guy with a gun and a boat, and he has to protect his own land in the jungle. A guy in another country – a place where a jungle doesn’t exist. That is all. It’s more about how I saw flat landscape (in Poland), and I want to have this jungle landscape because I really think it’s not far away off course. The jungle is like a symbol of natural chaos, and I’m really interested in putting a character in this nature of chaos. It’s really just an idea I’m following now.