Venice Film Fest 2023 Review: A Legal System Goes Under the Knife in Selman Necar’s Sharp “Hesitation Wound”

You don’t know what Musa (Oğulcan Arman Uslu) stands accused of in “Hesitation Wound” until you hear the closing arguments laid out by the prosecutor in his case, and it’s not to add a sense of surprise to Selman Nacar‘s riveting drama when one knows the charges must be serious for his lawyer Canan (Tülin Özen) to doggedly track down a witness who could perhaps change his likely fate, but to understand that the case has been all but decided already without much information at all to go on. What evidence there is at his murder trial raises more suspicions than Musa does as a suspect when the factory where he once worked and whose owner he has alleged to have killed has scrubbed surveillance footage of the night in question and a case is built against him based on his past criminal record of far more minor infractions than what he’s said to have done now. Still, it appears to be an open-and-shut case to everyone in court that’s eager to get to the next, except for Canan, who as a public defender is surely used to being in this position and yet hasn’t resigned herself to give her clients less than a full-throated defense.

“Hesitation Wound” exposes something clearly broken in the legal system in Nacar’s native Turkey, and the writer/director isn’t above putting the punctuation of a water main break during Canan‘s own closing rebuttal to acknowledge it, but generally the film is far more subtle and methodical, tracking Canan as she attempts to prove Musa’s innocence and keep a bit of her own in a system that clearly doesn’t reward it. Many admire Canan for making it this far in a male-dominated field, from the judge in her case who is likely a little more lenient than he typically would be to a male counterpart to the nurse at the hospital where her mother lies comatose, who tries to cheer her up by saying she hopes her daughter grows up to be just like her. Yet when it comes to achieving anything actually meaningful, her gender is often held against her, showing up in silly ways when even Musa passes on her offer of a cigarette when he thinks what she smokes is surely too weak for his liking, and a convenience store owner wants to know what she’ll be doing with the pack of razors she wants to buy when he thinks it’s an unusual purchase for a woman.

Neither Canan or Nacar waste time explaining how put the razors will be to use, but the film sees the lawyer cutting through all the crap that’s thrown her way nonetheless, relentlessly moving through a fraught few days in which she tries desperately to get the line witness in Musa’s case to come testify — if she can find him in the first place — and must decide whether to keep her mother on life support even as it’s become obvious she’s unlikely to regain consciousness. The film has more than a little “Michael Clayton” in it when it seems like Canan ends up doing an investigation that the authorities never bothered to when trying to track down Cemal, a chauffeur for the deceased, and when the fiercely-determined lawyer rarely breaks stride with Cristian Mungiu’s frequent cinematographer Tudor Vladimir Panduru there for every step, the moments she is stopped in her tracks become truly devastating.

Canan’s work may be a refuge from her personal issues and vice versa, but Nacar brilliantly finds a parallel in how Canan holds onto certain ideals regarding justice as she does her own mother, enduring the emotional cost of protecting both, and Özen plays the attorney with just the right amount of edge, a character always downplaying her intelligence but not resolve when the system insists on deference. Nacar demonstrates considerable wisdom as well when it comes to observing how it all works, most impressively illuminating the professional distance required to engage with life or death stakes over time, but how maintaining that balance for most comes to erase nuance and compassion from their approach to the job. “Hesitation Wound” isn’t lacking in either of those qualities and ends up delivering the most powerful indictment of all.

“Hesitation Wound” will screen again at the Venice Film Festival on September 5th at 1:15 pm at the PalaBiennale.

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