This is Andrews’ first feature and good on him for confronting a taboo subject. It’s not that pedophilia is a topic that makes a credible film, but the fact that he has shown this quite differently to how it is usually portrayed. He has focused on the victim and her psychological relationship with the perpetrator. It is delicate and nuanced, opposed to purely focusing on the monstrosity of the crime. In this way, Una is a little bit easier to digest, however, it is still problematic. It has a very dreamy and romantic Loilta atmosphere. But when you take in the whole of the situation, it is vile. This is perhaps intentional and important, to say the least.
Ruby Stokes plays Una with purpose and strength. Her character is pretty and innocent. The camera’s gaze and the film’s depiction of her sexual involvement/abuse with family neighbour Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) is quite unsettling. Fifteen years later Una is older (and played by Rooney Mara). Maintaining the same vulnerability and vitality, the narrative follows Una as she tracks down Ray to remind him of the psychological and physical pain the past has left her in.
Una has a punchy, self aware script. It knows exactly how it wants you to feel, taking viewers on an emotional rollercoaster and doing it so cleverly. It messes with the way the audience sees the situation, sometimes believing it to be consensual, whilst at other times the situation is definitely harsher. Seeing Una take her clothes off with a much older man, or knowing she is lying to concerned eyes that the man with her is her ‘dad’, makes this experience tough, but not black and white.
What is carried out consistently here is the character of Una from the different age points. Mara maintains vulnerability, but you can look at her journey as embracive and interesting. Una is able to reverse power by actively going to Ray’s workplace and going so far as to invite herself into his home. Yet again, Andrews makes this not so simple. Visiting Ray, means Una is not only faced with her memory of the past, but it is now in the present.
The punchiness of the script is also metaphorically shown in visuals and costuming. The heavy machinery and objects in the workplace are very masculine and make Una (Mara) look diminutive and childlike. Upon meeting Ray, Una plays up her vulnerability/sexuality by wearing a short floral print dress with vampy platform shoes. However, prior to this, Una is in a club wearing a distinctly adult looking sequin dress. With less metaphors and contrasts to compare, in the flashback scenes involving a younger Ray, he tends to favour wearing a floral shirt that really does scream ‘creep’.
Una is a strong film that looks really good. With the talents of Mara and Mendelsohn you are in skilled, meaningful hands. But it does sort of push viewers away, and asks a lot from them. It wants them to think, listen and be drawn into the psychological history that these characters share. It likes to play up the mechanics of everyday words and how they sound when they are used to describe the most vile acts in the plainest of ways.
Una is in cinemas from 22nd June through Madman Films.