There are some films which touch very sensitive topics, and most of the time it may be advisable to avoid such films. But, there comes a film which deals with a hard-to-digest-topic so unassumingly, the viewers will hardly notice that what they are seeing is something quite shocking. “Una” is one of these films, telling the story of Una, now a grown-up woman who recalls her past sexual relationship with a much older man when she was just thirteen. Directed by Benedict Andrews and starring Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn in the lead roles, this film, which is based on a theatrical play “Blackbird“, is an interesting account of a twisted relationship and “damaged” personalities. Beyond its uncomfortable subject matter, the film also offers a well-thought-out, even if “minimalist” plot, interesting cinematography and mesmerising performances.
Like Polanski’s “Carnage” (2011), “Una” is based on a theatrical play, and, thus, its focus is largely on one-to-one interactions taking place in tight settings. The story is told in a flash-back fashion. Una recalls her life when she was an innocent thirteen year old, leading a carefree life full of hope for the future. She also recalls her fascination with her much older neighbour Ray, and their clandestine encounters. These flashbacks are taking place as now adult Una decides to visit Ray for the first time since his trial and goes to his work place. She finds out that Ray changed his name, and now is one of the bosses at a company. Una’s arrival unsettles Ray greatly, and threatens to shatter his career. The clever thing here is that Ray’s place of work becomes an unlikely, but interesting battle-ground for Una and Ray’s showdown, as the two explore both their victim-criminal and their twisted love/sexual relationships. The mental battle between the two intensifies, the extent of Una’s damaging obsession with Ray becomes clearer, and it seems that their previous traumatic relationship is more complicated than first meets the eye. It is evident that Ray’s high work standards start to derail the minute Una walks into his workplace, and the two are even forced to hide at the workplace’s dark empty rooms to escape the pursuit of Ray’s colleagues. Overall, the film is a bit far from the disturbing accounts of “Sleepers” (1996) or “The Girl Next Door” (2007), (for example, see my list here.) Rather, it is about the consequences and the psychology behind of “what ifs” of a crime/taboo relationship. As the ending shows, the film is also a tale of loss, loneliness and abandonment.
Rooney Mara as Una and Ben Mendelsohn as Ray seem to put the hearts and souls into the performances, and the supporting cast, such as Riz Ahmed (“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” (2012)) and Tobias Menzies, often provide a nice distraction from Una and Ray’s explosive confrontations. However, one of the major problems is that the film does become bland in its middle part. Even considering the contained nature of the film and its emphasis on the dialogues, the film’s middle part seems to have few things to offer. Thankfully, the tension and intrigue escalate towards the film’s end, when Una crashes Ray’s home party, and the film ends on a strong, thought-provoking note.
It is clear that “Una” is only for a niche audience, and, understandably, only a minority will be interested in its premise and in its cinematic lay-out. However, those who will decide to commit are likely to find a film which is well-written, well-directed and well-shot. The performances are impressive, and the flash-back sequences are masterfully incorporated. However, it is probably the fascinating exploration of the main characters themselves which remains the main selling point of this film. 8/10