Magazine article Screen International

'Una': Telluride Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Una': Telluride Review

Article excerpt

Dir: Benedict Andrews. US/UK/Canada, 2016. 94 mins.

Cat and mouse trade places in the exacting psycho-social drama Una, which depicts the eponymous damaged Englishwoman's stalking of the outwardly ordinary man who, 15 years previously, had a three-month sexual relationship with her when she was aged 13. Adapted by David Harrower from his 2005 play Blackbird, the first feature helmed by the radical Australian stage director-dramatist Benedict Andrews is a crucible for the combustible combination of stars Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn.

Pending a positive lift-offat its Telluride and Toronto premieres, Una should find strong favour with fans of thorny films like Compliance, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Room, as well as Neil LaBute's discomfiting oeuvre, though it could possibly prove too dark and ambiguity-laden for mainstream tastes.

The film crosscuts between Una's current life as a bitter, promiscuous 27-year-old living with her sick widowed mother (Tara Fitzgerald) and her tragic experience as a precocious adolescent (the excellent Ruby Stokes) smitten by her father's fortyish friend and neighbor Ray (Mendelsohn). Flashbacks trace the progress of their affair, from a flirtation at a barbecue, an underwater dalliance at a swimming pool, and a tryst in a park to an evening in a cheap hotel where they slept together.

The opening shows the adult Una (Mara) coming home at dawn, having had anonymous sex in a club bathroom, and setting out to confront Ray, whom she has located working as a staffmanager on an industrial estate. She is led to him by a young employee, Scott (Riz Ahmed), who takes a shine to her - and on their impromptu later date treats her with more respect than Ray ever did.

Once Ray, who has taken a different name, overcomes the shock of being discovered by Una, their conversation takes a serpentine course. He says he was persecuted as a paedophile during his four-year prison term but argues he isn't one of those "sick bastards". He has rebuilt his life and married.

Una's recriminations slip into nostalgic reminiscences of their affair - she and Ray even have a laugh - and it's worryingly clear she yearns to renew their intimacy. A murky flashback shows that when looking for Ray in a pub, after he panicked and lefther in the hotel, she automatically told a suspicious barman she was seeking her dad, not the only time she named Ray as such. …

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