TIFF 2016: Una Review



Theatre director Benedict Andrews presents his first feature film – adapting David Harrower’s harrowing play Blackbird, about a young woman confronting the man who sexually abused her when 13 years old. Our first introduction to the eponymous lead is when she’s having sex in what appears to be a public toilet – instantly telling us that her own relationship with sex is not a particularly healthy one, and it’s one of many details that make up this layered, complex narrative.

Rooney Mara plays Una, who discovers the whereabouts of Ray (Ben Mendelsohn), the man who had persistently abused her as a child. He now goes by the name of Peter, and manages a warehouse – and she decides to travel to his place of work, and confront him for the first time. Upon her arrival she meets Scott (Riz Ahmed) who introduces her to his boss – and Ray turns white. This is the first time he’s had to face the demons of his past, having served time in prison for what he did.

There’s an intricacy to this tale, taking unexpected turns as we progress through this narrative. We learn from witnessing the video that Una (played as a teenager by Ruby Stokes) appears on in court, asking where Ray went, and why he left her. Though the girl’s sick neighbour groomed, and manipulated the youngster, it seems he genuinely felt they shared something real. He was in love. As the pair talk, and cry, and shout at one another, Ray’s colleagues are trying to find him in the warehouse, and so they do what they always used to do in each other’s company; they hide.

Mara turns in an accomplished display in the leading role, even if her English accent is somewhat generic – and Mendelsohn matches her at every turn, so nuanced that he somehow manages to evoke a semblance of pity from the viewer. Not much of course, as you despise him for what he’s done to this poor young girl and how he has ruined her life – but it exists, and that in itself is completely unexpected, and of great commendation to the remarkable actor.

Una is a flawed drama, but a provocative, disquieting one that will certainly stay with you long after seeing it. It portrays these repulsive series of events in a way that is unique, and is far from what you may perceive to be as a ‘normal’ way to react and respond to such occurrences, but then there’s no such thing as a normal way to suffer, and it’s this sentiment the film explores, and thrives in.