Una (2016)

  • Time: 94 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Benedict Andrews
  • Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Indira Varma


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.

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  • “Are you allergic to me?” the young woman asks the man more than twice her age. The man is Ray, now known as Peter, and the woman is Una and if she is a shock to his system, he is a poison that has never left hers.

    It’s been 15 years since the two have set eyes on one another and Una wants answers. “Where did you go? Why did you leave me?” she asks. These are the words of a spurned lover and Una’s spectral appearance suggests a reckoning is about to come; it’s no wonder that one can feel Ray’s blood run cold at the sight of her. Yet this is no ordinary tale of fatal attraction, this is a story of a love that generally dares not speak its name but does so emphatically in this excellent adaptation of David Harrower’s acclaimed 2005 play, Blackbird.

    It doesn’t take long for the true nature of their relationship to reveal itself. Fifteen years ago when Una was 13, the two embarked on an illegal but mutually consensual relationship. So strong were their feelings for one another that they even ran away together to a coastal town, but ensuing circumstances resulted in Ray getting arrested and spending several years in jail for statutory rape. Since his release, he’s managed to rebuild his life – a new name, a good job, and a romantic partner closer to his own age. Una, however, has remained firmly in the past – still living in the same house with her mother, still able to see the house where Ray lived when he was her neighbour and father’s friend, and, despite knowing how wrong their love was, still wanting their relationship to continue.

    If there’s one significant change that Una has undergone, it’s her awareness of the power of her sexuality over others. She uses it like a weapon, but it also is a method of self-harm. Una knows how to guilt Ray even as she agrees that she is just as accountable as he is. Yet what does she want? Revenge? Romance? Closure? Perhaps just a small acknowledgement from Ray that she hasn’t been able to move on, that the abuse happened, that the consequences of that abuse are something that she has lived with and will continue to live with.

    Australian director Benedict Andrews makes an impressive feature film debut, not only drawing out superb performances from Mara and Mendelsohn but also in maintaining the piece’s theatrical roots without rendering them too theatrical. He’s greatly assisted in this regard by cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis and production designer Fiona Crombie. The empty cafeteria that serves as a de facto interrogation room and whose small locker area becomes a space for seduction convey the boxes that both characters have found themselves trapped in.

    Harrower expertly adapts his own play, incorporating flashbacks which feature an outstanding actress by the name of Ruby Stokes, who plays the young Una. Not all attempts to expand the play are wholly successful, in particular the addition of Ray’s factory colleagues, whose presences only serve to muddy an otherwise clear-eyed, challenging, and provocative film.

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