LOCARNO — Michael Koch’s feature debut “Marija,” a vision of just what an immigrant is prepared to do to see her dreams come true, belongs to a prominent strain of highly-researched fiction which make little concessions to its audience.

One of two Swiss international competition entries this year at Locarno, –alongside Milagros Mumenthaler’s “The Idea of a Lake”– migrant drama “Marija” portrays a young Ukrainian woman who cleans hotel rooms in Dortmund Nordstadt, a former blue-collar neighborhood in the Ruhr region (Germany), but doesn’t abandon her dreams to have her own hair saloon. To achieve her goal, she’s ready to pay any prize.

Produced by Cologne-based Pandora Film and HugoFilm, and co-produced with Zürich’s Little Shark, “Marija” world sales are handled by Paris-based Luxbox. Real Fiction Filmverleih and Frenetic Films have picked rights for Germany and Switzerland respectively.

“The whole film is told from Marija’s perspective, often in sequence shots. With our visuals, we’ve tried to translate a sense of Marija’s determination, her focus and inability to analyse her situation with any kind of distance,” Koch told Variety.

Director-screenwriter Koch began his film career as an actor, co-starring in Swiss romantic comedy hit “Ready, Steady, Charlie!” A student at Cologne’s Academy of Media Arts (KHM), he directed several shorts and documentary “We Are the Faithful,” a Prix Canal Plus winner at France’s Clermont-Ferrand shorts festival in 2006. Koch’s graduation short, “Polar,” took the German Short Film Prize in 2009.

“I’m interested in a cinema that shows and does not explain, that focuses on people and their often contradictory needs in a formally rigorous way, telling stories of people struggling with inner, hidden conflicts,” he adds.

He mentions other Swiss helmers – Nicolas Steiner, Basil da Cunha, Matthias Günter, Andy Herzog and Tobias Nölle – as examples of directors who “formally and substantively are following new paths and do not chum up with the audience.”

Koch is now preparing his next project: “As in ‘Marija’ it’s also based on detailed documentary research. My films’ development work is always about ‘finding’ and not ‘inventing,’” he said.

Its subject? “Again, I am focusing on a person who meshes very different and contradictory needs. It is a movie about love and death and life, set in the Swiss mountains.”