Una: A complex tale of child sexual abuse from debutant Benedict Andrews

In ‘Una’, based on David Harrower’s award winning play ‘Blackbird’, Rooney Mara plays a 27-year-old woman named Una who goes looking for a man with whom she had a sexual relationship with 15 years ago, when she was just 12 and he 40. The man, Ray, is played by Ben Mendelsohn, and it’s the actor’s most remarkable performance since 2010’s ‘Starred Up’. Ray has built a new life for himself, under a new identity “Peter”. When Una walks into his office one day, he is forced to confront his past.

What seems initially like an ordinary child sexual abuse tale soon turns into something much more complex and twisted once we come to learn that Una was in love with Ray, and she is in his office now because she is looking for closure. She wants to know why he had abandoned her just like that one fine day after being physically intimate with her. Things get more interesting when he gives her his side of the story. Benedict treats Ray’s entire workplace – a warehouse – as if were a maze, with Una following him, pushing him into corners and hidden spaces; their conversations take place in empty, cold and sterile surroundings. Ray doesn’t see himself as a pedophile. He tells her he is aware of their psychology and that he is not “one of them”.

Una’s probing and intimate questions – especially those concerning both of their sexuality – make him increasingly uncomfortable. The editing at times reminded me of the way Christopher Nolan edits his films, especially his earlier films, and given that this film deals with memories – from both Ray’s as well as the 12-year-old Una’s point of views – which we see play out concurrently, this sort of editing is quite effective. This is a self-assured debut from the Australian director who had previously worked in theatre; the film looks and feels like a play, with most of the drama confined to the interiors. It has that same quality that some of Mike Nichols’ films had — ‘Closer’ and ‘Carnal Knowledge’ immediately come to mind. Riz Ahmed co-stars.

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