You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

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.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content