‘Hesitation Wound’ Review:  A Tense, Dilemma-Filled Day-in-the-Life of a Turkish Lawyer 

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In the second half of the 20th century a system of categorizing personalities into “Type A” and “Type B” gained mainstream pop-psychological traction. The obvious limitations of its binary, or at best linear, approach have seen the theory largely fall out of favor but sometimes, like when watching Selman Nacar’s sober, stressful second feature, “Hesitation Wound,” it’s hard not to be reminded of it. Defense attorney Canan (an outstanding Tülin Özen, avid and serious) is competitive, status-conscious, impatient, ambitious and hard-working to the point of work addiction. In other words, she’s the Type A-est Type A to ever have had a very hard day.

Nacar, who studied law himself, has written a screenplay that piles incident on incident, and moral quandary on moral quandary, each bumping into the rear of the next like a knock-on collision in rush hour traffic. But he directs with a spontaneity that means the drama never seems contrived, especially as conveyed in the considered realism of Tudor Panduru’s cinematography. Panduru, who has been responsible for some of Romania’s most deceptively handsome recent films (among them Cristian Mungiu’s “R.M.N.,” Radu Muntean’s “Intregalde” and Alexandru Belc’s “Metronom”) also shot Nacar’s well-received debut, “Between Two Dawns,” and between them, director and DP have developed a coolly restrained aesthetic that matches the film’s heroine in both elegance and intelligence. 

Because even though she dresses rapidly this morning in the hospital room where her aged mother lies in an unresponsive state, Canan is always immaculately turned out, in a silk jade blouse or a soft teal sweater, under a lawyer’s gown or a tailored tweed coat topped with an efficient chignon. Her conservative but unmistakably expensive style is one of things that sets her apart from her more crumpled colleagues. It is visible evidence of her outsiderness, which many, including the judge on her trial, can easily interpret as arrogance (and perhaps they are not wrong). Many’s the reference made to Canan studying abroad, as though that experience has given her notions above her station, and certainly above the crumbling courtrooms and petty corruptions of Uşak, the small Turkish city to which she has only just returned.

The case she is defending is that of Musa (Oğulcan Arman Uslu), a factory worker accused of murdering his boss, who has the titular hesitation wounds (scars from suicide practice-runs) on his arms. Today is the final day for evidence before sentencing and a late-breaking witness could prove pivotal in establishing Musa’s innocence, if only he’d arrive. Or maybe Canan’s impassioned, forthright, clinical dismantling of the prosecution’s allegations would do the trick, if only she could get through it without the ceiling collapsing — the piteous state of the municipal buildings, especially compared to the pricey restoration of a nearby mosque, makes an eloquently offhand statement about a society in which the appearance of piety is more likely to gain political capital than a commitment to secular justice. 

But while Canan has to dodge chunks of falling plaster at work the ceiling is also falling in, so to speak, in her personal life.  She argues with her sister (Gülçin Kültür Şahin) over stopping their comatose mother’s life support while her organs can still be donated in accordance with her wishes. It is yet another example of Canan holding on too tight to situations over which she has no control, as though through sheer force of personal competence she can force the dead back to life, the condemned back to innocence and the rotten back to a state of grace. 

However Nacar, in collaboration with the riveting Özen, absolutely avoids making Canan the uncomplicated, self-sacrificing crusader that her dedication to her client and her mother might imply. We are never sure how much of her drive comes from social conscience or filial devotion, and how much from sheer, rigid pride and her savior complex. All of Canan’s interactions are adversarial, every conversation is a negotiation, and even the mildest exchange has to have a winner and loser. She would be a monster if it were not so clear that she is her own biggest victim. Having confined her outward expressions of distress to one hair-down, frustrated sob at a canteen table, in court later, Canan’s nose suddenly starts to bleed.

In images tinged with the blue of sadness, the green of decay and the bilious yellow of institutional hallways, Nacar makes remarkably suspenseful drama out of one hyper-committed woman’s refusal to curry sympathy, as she crosses Rubicon after ethical Rubicon in one 24-hour period. It is only with the slight slackening of focus in the film’s closing stages that Nacar’s otherwise deeply impressive command falters a little, ending “Hesitation Wound” on an atypically hesitant note, mid-countdown to what is either the defusing of its ticking time-bomb plot, or its detonation.

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