By Adam Ray Palmer
On Saturday, day four of the 60th London Film Festival, I managed to catch the American-British-Canadian drama film Una.
Una is directed by Benedict Andrews and adapted from David Harrower’s play Blackbird. The film stars Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn and Riz Ahmed.
I hadn’t researched this hard-hitting drama, but with calibre of actors involved, it was also going to be unmissable at the LFF…
When a young woman unexpectedly arrives at an older man's workplace, looking for answers, the secrets of the past threaten to unravel his new life. Their confrontation will uncover buried memories and unspeakable desires. It will shake them both to the core.
Una is a considerably emotional film, one that is difficult to watch which even had me looking away at times. At the age of thirteen, Una (Ruby Stokes) had a sexual relationship with her adult neighbour, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn). Ray was eventually convicted of sexual assault and sent to prison for four years. Once released, he moves away to start a new life under a new identity. Una, now a 28-year-old adult (Rooney Mara) tries to find Ray and tell him he has ruined her life. She finds “Pete”, Ray’s new identity, working as a warehouse manager with a new family. She’s desperate to unleash her inner rage and he wants to set the record straight by wanting Una to know he isn’t a paedophile.
The film offers a lot to consider. It poses questions to the audience that are horrible to think about, but you have no choice to consider. The combination of Una’s femininity and Ray’s intimidating and dangerous nature is fascinating to watch. Like Una, we’re hypnotised by Ray’s predatorily character and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s a testament to Mendelsohn’s impeccable acting.
The sequences between Mara and Mendelsohn are captivating as they really get the best out of each other. It’s the flashback scenes between an innocent, young Una standing before a middle-aged beast of a man though that really hit home just how difficult this film is to watch. Rooney Mara’s haunting narration of what happened during these tense scenes also adds to the difficulty. What should be Una’s first crush is instead a harrowing nightmare that ruins her life.
I think the roles of the two central protagonists are incredibly interesting and the two actors are perfect fits. Ben is at the top of his game and Rooney has done this all before. She is becoming the queen of quiet, motionless roles as she reveals her feelings through a vacant face. She did this in Carol and in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The main issue with Una is the staging on the camera. There isn’t a lot going in the background, and as this is a stage play primarily, Benedict must find ways of making the leap to screen. Andrews does what he can to be cinematic with great use of flashbacks (the most powerful scenes), but it never quite releases the shackles of its origins. We spend a lot of time in blank rooms as the pair dodge other colleagues at Ray’s workplace, but you get the feeling this is just to have a change of scenery.
Una is a film about confrontation without resolution. It also makes us realise early on that each character is unlikely to find any peace. We are promised a great showdown at the end when Una manipulates Riz Ahmed’s character to get what she wants, but even then the climax only simmers. Ultimately, I’m not sure what the film wants from the audience. Do we sympathise with the characters or are we judging what punishment should await Ray? All we do know; they both suffer but the victim is worse off – confirming the frustration in watching this traumatic tale.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 Stars
Una will be released in the UK later this year – certificate TBC