Com­plete Un­known

COM­PLETE UN­KNOWN, drama, rated R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

“How does it feel, how does it feel?/To be with­out a home/Like a com­plete un­known, like a rolling stone.” — Bob Dy­lan

We all rein­vent our­selves at one time or an­other. Go­ing off to col­lege, mov­ing to a new city, a dif­fer­ent coun­try, chang­ing jobs — life of­fers sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties to shed the bag­gage we’ve schlepped around and get a fresh start.

Not ev­ery­body does it in as whole­sale a fash­ion as Alice (Rachel Weisz), the mys­tery woman who shows up at the birth­day party of Tom (Michael Shan­non) in this edgy drama from Joshua Marston, a Cal­i­for­nian mak­ing his home coun­try de­but af­ter a cou­ple of mostly for­eign fea­tures, the Span­ish-lan­guage Maria Full of Grace (2004) and the Al­ba­nia-set The For­give­ness of Blood (2011).

Be­fore the party that brings them to­gether, when Alice shows up as the date of Tom’s busi­ness part­ner Clyde (Michael Ch­er­nus), we’ve learned a bit about them. Tom is a gov­ern­ment worker liv­ing in New York, oc­cu­pied with agri­cul­tural pro­grams. His wife Ram­ina (Azita Gh­a­nizada), who is Ira­nian and is teach­ing Tom a bit of Farsi, is a jew­elry de­signer who has got­ten an op­por­tu­nity in Cal­i­for­nia and wants them to leave the city and head out there.

Tom and Ram­ina’s is­sues — to move or not to move — are pablum com­pared to the shape-shift­ing Alice. By the time she shows up at Tom’s party, we’ve learned of at least a half-dozen past self-rein­ven­tions — she’s been a stu­dent, a ma­gi­cian’s as­sis­tant, an ER nurse, and a few other things, un­der an equal va­ri­ety of names. And we’ve seen her Googling Tom and his part­ner, and ma­nip­u­lat­ing a chance meet­ing with Clyde that brings her to Tom’s house for the fate­ful party.

Alice in­tro­duces her­self as a bi­ol­o­gist just re­turned from Tas­ma­nia and ad­mits to a bit of her iden­tity-shift­ing back­ground at the party, to the dis­com­fort of some of the guests. “When ev­ery­one thinks they know who you are, you’re trapped,” she says.

It’s clear from the mo­ment she and Tom lock eyes that there’s his­tory here, but Marston doles out the in­for­ma­tion in dribs and drabs, un­til the full back­story is re­vealed. At this point, Tom and Alice — or Jenny, as she now proves to be — leave the oth­ers to have a bit of ad­ven­ture that in­volves an older cou­ple (Kathy Bates and Danny Glover) in which Tom gets drawn into the iden­tity-shift­ing game. They spend the rest of the movie talk­ing things out. What starts as a po­ten­tially Hitch­cock­ian thriller evolves into some­thing more akin to Eric Rohmer, or Richard Lin­klater’s tril­ogy that be­gan with 1995’s Be­fore Sun­rise. It loses some­thing in the tran­si­tion. But the ques­tions it asks — Do we have to be who we are? How tempt­ing and how re­ward­ing is it to leave ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing be­hind and emerge anew, like a but­ter­fly from a chrysalis? — make in­trigu­ing food for thought. — Jonathan Richards

Per­sona prob­lems: Michael Shan­non and Rachel Weisz

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