A new film is trying to answer Bob Dylan's 1965 question: How does it feel to be without a home, like a complete unknown?
“Complete Unknown,” the third feature film by director Joshua Marston, was co-written by he and playwright Julian Sheppard. It stars Rachel Weisz as a bit of a rolling stone — her character is constantly reinventing her identity at the expense of her personal relationships.
The Los Angeles-born director explained that his motivation for writing her character was an academic one:
I got into filmmaking to play anthropologist and to, with every movie, delve into a different world and a different set of characters and sort of sink into that.
“Complete Unknown” is Marston’s first English language feature. “Maria Full of Grace,” from 2004, was in Spanish, and his 2011 film, “The Forgiveness of Blood,” was in Albanian. “Complete Unknown” made its premiere at the Sundance film festival this year where Amazon studios picked it up for distribution.
Amazon’s film division is run by Ted Hope and Bob Berney, who are old hands in the indie film world. “Complete Unknown” was one of a slew of movies they bought in Park City.
When The Frame’s John Horn sat down at Sundance with Marston, he talked more about the film's main themes and how his collaboration with Julian Sheppard got started.
Hear the full interview by clicking the play button at the top of this post. Highlights below.
On his collaboration with Julian Sheppard:
Julian and I have known each other since 2001. We met at an artist colony called the McDowell Colony — it's very well known — and he was working on a screenplay at the time. We've known each other ever since. Years later, I was just coming out of a bad breakup with a film that hadn't come to fruition and I happened to see Julian at a party and I told him that I was going to be having lunch and he said, well do you want to kick around some ideas? So we started talking about ideas. We, from the beginning, knew we wanted to tell a story about a woman who was not who she presented herself to be. Then, in talking through that, [we] landed on this image of, what would it be like to be at a party and look across the room and see a woman who you were quite certain you knew and hadn't seen in many years and then be introduced to her and have her be presented as a completely other person? And we sort of went from there.
On developing Rachel Weisz's character:
When Rachel and I started working together, we immediately began having these very complex conversations that lasted all the way to the last day of shooting about the extent to which her character is or is not truly the people whom she says she is. On the one hand, she's doing some fabrication and she's creating backstories for each of these people that she becomes. On the other hand, once she's in a new identity, she is fully in that identity. She's actually being that person. For me, that was the interest. That's the way I view it is that, you are actually all of these people.
On being back at Sundance for the first time since his 2004 debut:
It's a trip to be back. I'm trying consciously not to compare experiences, but it's hard not to. The experience with "Maria Full of Grace" was sort of the dream experience that anyone could have at Sundance. I was an unknown, all the actresses were unknown and people were then stopping them on the street asking for their autographs. What's nice this time around is that I get the benefit of the opposite, which is a packed house because people are curious to see what I've done next. That's very gratifying.
On how the themes of "Complete Unknown" were shaped by his own experiences:
My personal connection is at two levels. One is yes, within the realm of filmmaking I'm reinventing myself to a certain extent with every movie. I'm trying to do something different. Definitely this movie is different from my last two. We were joking about the fact that it's my first English language feature film after doing one in Spanish and one in Albanian. So in that respect, I'm reinventing myself. But there's also just the fantasy of — and I'm sure this happens to you and everyone — you're doing what you do and then you meet someone who's out across the other side of the planet saving lives and doing something important. You think, wow it would be really great to do what that person's doing. There's that fantasy of shifting gears.
"Complete Unknown" opens in theaters on September 2nd. Amazon has not yet given a date for when it will be made available to stream.