Sydney Film Festival: Una

Alexander McPherson
13th Jun 2017

Una is as a screenplay adapted by David Harrower from his play Blackbird and directed by Benedictine Andrews. It is as conflicted as it is bold, taking you into the heart of a sexually beguiled relationship, between a now of age Una (Rooney Mara) and her long lost love and child abuser Ray (Ben Mendelsohn). Una comes seeking answers that no one else can give; she enters back into a nihilistic relationship that is “defined by being closed off from the rest of the world” in Benedictine's words.

Few are polarized on the issue of pedophilia as it becomes an every more pressing topic. Few would consider ever hearing such a villain out, cleverly this film gives you no choice, the viewer is confronted with many uncomfortable questions; no answers are given. The story revolves around “a deep ambiguity that no one can solve” as director Benedictine describes it. 

Rooney plays Una with an extraordinary porcelain quality, her bravery shines through the cracks of her tortured soul, the insolubility of her experience aches in her every motion as she seeks love or perhaps some kind of reprieve from the man that she once knew.

Ray is so brilliantly played by Mendelsohn, it is hard to decide his true motive and harder still (especially as an Australian) to write off this man as a complete monster. Ben puts it best, “I’ve found that most good liars sound a lot like people who are telling the truth…its about what you think.” 

A mention must also be made about Ruby Stokes, who in her unprecedented role as the young Una purveys through her innocent gaze both a deep wisdom and a unwritten book of questions, she embodies a subtle aloofness in the intimate moments the two of them share.

Harrower has lost none of the resoluteness in bringing his breathless and intense psychological play to the big screen. Benedictine who makes his film debut from a career of stage direction shows a vast palate that is rich in encapsulating the rush and fantasy of this off kilter relationship.

Una is left "like a burning ember in the wind" (Mendelsohn), and perhaps the only question that will bring resolve remains… 

Can you forgive?

Una is screening as part of the 2015 Sydney Film Festival. Catch the final festival screening on Thursday June 15th.