Daily | Telluride + Toronto 2016 | Benedict Andrews’s UNA

“Australian theater director Benedict Andrews makes his film debut with Una, an uneasy adaptation of David Harrower’s play Blackbird, about a young woman who had a sexual relationship at age 12 with a 40-year-old man who went to prison for four years for his crime,” begins Dan Callahan at TheWrap. “Harrower’s play dramatizes the disturbing way these two people were originally drawn together and the aspects of their sick bond that they cannot let go of. Blackbird was most notably done on Broadway earlier in 2016 with Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, and both Daniels and Williams are histrionic virtuosos when it comes to this kind of punishing and self-punishing material. But in Una, the two lead roles of Una and Ray are played by Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn, and neither of them fully engage with the parts they are playing or the material itself, which feels bold and evasive by turns on the subject of pedophilia.”

“Aware of the inherent staginess of the material, Andrews throws in flashbacks and some nice visual flourishes to give the story a more cinematic feel and the slow-burn drama works nicely for a while,” grants the Guardian‘s Benjamin Lee. “Mara and Mendelsohn have a compellingly toxic chemistry together and their initial confrontation is intriguingly tense. But once we’re locked into the meat of the story, the film has nowhere else to go, at least anywhere that’s of interest and the pace becomes laborious as their discussions turn repetitive.”

But for Indiewire‘s David Ehrlich, “Una maintains its grip even when swinging a bit too hard for the fences…. Mara has a way of making every part she takes feel like the role that she was born to play, but the actress’ gift for impassively conveying some unknown inner turbulence—so essential to films like Carol and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—brings a uniquely rich and volatile immediacy to Una’s buried turmoil…. Una is not well, and Ray is her disease. Mendelsohn, already having established himself as one of the slipperiest and most dangerously coiled character actors of his generation, tempers his natural caginess with the warmth of a dying fire.”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney notes that Harrower’s written the adaptation himself and that Andrews directed “its German-language premiere in Berlin. Having both a director and a screenwriter so familiar with the bones of the source material has allowed them to be quite free with its structure, at the same time magnifying its psychological and moral complexities. It’s one of the more intelligent stage-to-screen adaptations of recent years…. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis (known for his work on Yorgos Lanthimos‘s Dogtooth and The Lobster, as well as Ira Sachs‘s Keep the Lights On) frames the action in striking though not overly mannered compositions, adopting more muted tones in the dreamlike returns to the past. Also effective is the needling score by Jed Kurzel, composer on The Babadook, and on his brother Justin’s films The Snowtown Murders and Macbeth.”

Una feels every bit as twisted as films like Hard Candy (in which Ellen Page turns the tables on a sexual predator she meets online),” finds Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “It’s as if instead of showing Lolita from Humbert Humbert’s POV, little Dolores Haze had grown up and taken matters into her own hands.” At the Playlist, Gregory Ellwood gives Una a B-.

Steven Zeitchik talks with Andrews for the Los Angeles Times: “There’s no excuse for what happened between Ray and Una—it’s an unacceptable criminal relationship. But this is a more specific way of looking at the topic. Is Ray still a criminal or is he a good person? And Una’s question is the same as the audience’s: Was it love or was it abuse?”

Update, 9/6: “While it’s got its strengths—it sports a stylish look and murmurs in an eerily evocative tone—theater director Benedict Andrews’s first film is, for the most part, scattered and shaky,” finds Vanity Fair‘s Richard Lawson.

Update, 9/12:Una is an astonishing success,” declares Christopher Schobert at the Film Stage. “Anchored by two exhilarating performances…, the film is also harsh, moving, and extraordinarily riveting.”

Updates, 9/14: “An indication of what Elle could have been if it wasn’t directed by Paul Verhoeven or led by Isabelle Huppert, Una treads dangerous territory without tact, nimbleness or reflexivity,” writes Josh Cabrita for Cinema Scope. “Though the film is formally bland and absurd in its final act, Mara’s performance is the main flaw: she is neither an enigma like Huppert nor able to imply the character’s ambivalence, jumping from one extreme to the next with very little credibility.”

“This is a hard, difficult movie,” finds Flavorwire‘s Jason Bailey. “But it’s vital.”

Update, 9/15: Kenji Fujishima at Movie Mezzanine: “Many of the flashbacks…—especially in the rapid-fire non-chronological way editor Nick Fenton has dropped them into Una and Ray’s central confrontation—basically telegraph [the] concluding revelation, in some ways depriving it of the gut-punch impact the play had.”

Update, 9/18: For Alexander Huls at, “when Una ends it’s somehow not enough, despite everything Mara and Mendelsohn gave to it.”

Update, 9/23: Emma Brown talks with Andrews for Interview.

Update, 9/24: Screen‘s Andreas Wiseman interviews Mara.

Update, 10/1: “Mendelsohn’s character will be viewed with more natural prejudice, despite a performance that balances his usual smarminess with the tendrils of remorse, its unsettling effectiveness rooted in our inability to decipher whether he’s being disingenuous with Una, with himself, or not at all,” writes Luke Gorham at In Review Online. “Bleak and vicious throughout, Una surprises by necessarily reserving judgment of its characters, rewarding its viewers by challenging them to do the same.”

The 2016 fall film festival indexes: Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

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