To Dust is an odd and unique, as well as hilarious and moving, debut feature film from writer and director Shawn Snyder.
Despite its obvious idiosyncrasies, it is also deeply personal to the filmmaker. In fact, he has spent 10 years developing the darkly comic film, the catalyst of which was the death of his mother. Snyder tells Metro To Dust was a “pilgrimage for his own grief,” especially since he finds it offensive that so many people try to confine and define this period of mourning.
At the same time, though, he also wanted to “probe and explore the ancient guide posts to grief” through the film, which revolves around a recently widowed Hasidic cantor Shmuel (Geza Rohrig) haunted by the image of his decomposing wife teaming up with a bumbling college professor Albert (Matthew Broderick) and a dead pig to help him process the stringent religious timeline for mourning.
Matthew Broderick talks To Dust
Matthew Broderick was immediately entranced by To Dust. “I just enjoyed reading it. It was so well written and a good story. I didn’t expect what happened to happen. It is also a subject that people don’t often dramatize. It is something that is a little scary, but it is handled so well. And I thought it was funny.”
“Then I met Shawn and I knew I wanted to work with him, plus I had seen Geza in Son Of Saul, and I had so much respect for him. It was all those things. But the script seemed original and personal and had an authentic feeling to it. So it was worth doing.”
A lot of other people felt this way about To Dust. So much so that it received a number of eclectic backers and champions, from The Alfred P Sloan Foundation, who gave it a grant because of its scientific content, to actors Ron Perlman, Emily Mortimer and Alessandro Nivola, all of whom are producers.
But To Dust wouldn’t work if the dynamic between Shmuel and Albert wasn’t both heartfelt as well as peppered with comedy. Snyder admits that he ambitiously wanted the actors to evoke Abbott & Costello. Which was quite the request, considering that, as Matthew Broderick points out, the comedic icons honed their dynamic over 20 years, and there wasn’t even a rehearsal period for To Dust.
But, despite this constraint, Rohrig and Broderick are genuinely hilarious and compelling whenever they’re together. So how did they create this dynamic?
“I consider it a great luck and privilege that I got to work with Matthew,” insists Rohrig, who was a prominent poet before finding success with Son Of Saul. “Because I am coming from a different angle. I am not a trained actor.”
“But despite all of his achievements I found Matthew to be an incredibly humble person. Who wasn’t teaching me so to speak, but by seeing him in action I would try to learn his secret. He is a natural actor, with technique and experience. But we just jumped into it. Because we are different enough to sort of play out in real time rather than trying to create some difference. It worked on its own.”
Matthew Broderick stresses that he and Rohrig also had a lot in common, which allowed their on screen dynamic to flourish. “I never looked at Geza and thought, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ It easily felt like we were in the same story. We all instinctively knew what we were doing.”
To Dust opens at New York City’s Village East on February 8, before expanding across the country on February 15.