Una – “Performances by Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelson are worth hunting down…”

Una is an abused 13-year old girl. The opening shot, as she sits by a tree outside her parents smart suburban home, is followed by her assumed route to the man who became her abuser.

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Starring Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelson and Riz Ahmed, Una tackles a dark subject manner intelligently that, while repulsive, is tastefully depicted. It is small in its scale, with the majority taking place in an industrial warehouse, but sadly sags in the final act before resolving itself in a finale that forces reflection.

Flashing back between the grooming of the child, to the court case and to the current day, we see the first confrontation between Una (Mara) and Ray (Mendelson) since he was sent down for four years for sex with a minor. Ray has changed his name to Pete and within the factory he is in a position of responsibility. He can’t believe she has found him and yet, now she has, he cannot tell her what to do. An aggressive, impulsive decision might ruin the life he has set up since leaving prison and he’ll be forced to start again, again. Most importantly, she has been corrupted ever since. In his acts, he remoulded the sweet young girl into an angry young woman. He may have served four years, but she has had to deal with the memory for fifteen. The film opens as Una is clubbing on her own, hooking up with an unknown man. Her relationship with her mother is fractured and her father was never the same since the four-year verdict was handed to a man who used to be a trusted friend.

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Directed by Benedict Andrews, Una is sensitively handled for such a grim topic. From the opening shot, we cannot help but ask questions. Who is she? What is important about this house? How did their relationship begin? How did it blossom? What pulled the entire thing to an end? Set in a tight space and within different small, similar-looking rooms, the film rests on the shoulders of Mara and Mendelson. Riz Ahmed’s minor role as a colleague of Ray is a nice addition to the cast too. But the script sometimes lacks the subtlety of the direction. When Una describes explicit moments, it feels like the film is trying to shock us – such a subject needs nothing further to shock. There’s also a naive approach to the direction of conversations, as it almost hints at some type of justification of the paedophile’s decisions. Though we may be prepared to understand the events that led to such a circumstance, it is never the fault or responsibility of the child to explain oneself.

Nevertheless, Una is a challenging, personal tale that, rather than violently argue its case as the gory Hard Candy, it discusses the events. It breaks it down into manageable chunks. Rehabilitation, the break-down of a family and the irreversible damage created by such horror can often be overlooked. Una tackles these head on and, though flawed at points, the performances by its star players are worth watching the film for.

This served as part of my coverage for the London Film Festival 2016, for Culturefly

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