With its title referring to the scar left behind by a suicidal person who hesitates and fails to deliver a mortal wound, Selman Nacar’s Hesitation Wound is an immediate film laden with melancholy and dread. Following Canan (Tülin Özen), a defense attorney in Turkey as she deals with trying to save an innocent man from getting the death sentence in a corrupt trial, Nacar focuses on the numbness and fatigue that comes from perpetually trying to stave off the end. It doesn’t quite matter whether the characters will meet their tragic fate or not; it’s the sword of Damocles perpetually swinging over their heads that carries the weight and will of the film.
This aim is aided by Hesitation Wound’s lopsided sense of plotting, which holds off almost the entirety of the film’s primary intrigue — the courtroom trial — for the first third of its runtime. We’re introduced to Canan as she runs from courtroom to jail to hospital to a factory far out on the city limits, trying desperately to prepare for that day’s trial and chase down a flighty witness, but we have little sense as to what any of this is all about. It’s the movement and sense of depressed anxiety, never rising above a low simmer, that establishes the tenor of this portrait of an uncertain world blanketed in low-key depression.
Once we are finally thrust into the dingy, claustrophobic courtroom for the film’s main set piece, the anxiety that has built through the perpetual wait has risen to the point of pounding. It’s for good reason too — the trial itself is a quagmire of personal, professional, and economic tensions that are increasingly insurmountable. Canan is stuck in a futile effort to defend a disgruntled ex-factory worker accused of killing the boss who fired him. The prosecution has everything that they need to convict him: testimony from professionals as to the defendant’s psychological character, a slightly doctored videotape, and heaps of class bias directed toward the defendant. Canan, on the other hand, has almost nothing going for her case except for a sense of assured righteousness that they are sending an innocent man to die, as well as the glaring detail that the prosecution has made no attempts to investigate the victim’s son who was also present at the scene of the crime and has since fled the country.
Nacar shoots the trial through a series of long, unbroken handheld shots that move only slightly across their minutes-long compositions, switching from simply capturing the mundane bustle of the courtroom at one moment to tense, sustained close-ups of Canan as she gives her closing arguments in the next. Aided by some sharp work with shallow focus and an agile use of extras who always seem to be shuffling in the background or appearing from the edges of the frame at the tensest moments, Nacar builds a remarkable amount of tension in a very simple dramatic framework. What’s most effective about Hesitation Wound is also Nacar’s refusal to ever let this tension uncoil and the pressure subside. Eventually, we leave the courtroom again, the trial still underway, but with no more certainty as to its outcome or to the defendant’s possible innocence then when we first entered. Ultimately, when storm clouds appear in the film’s closing moments, arriving over a landscape shot filled with ambiguity, it’s obvious how little it matters that we’ll never find any resolution — the end is coming, who cares how it gets here?