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LOCARNO 2023 Piazza Grande

Review: First Case


- The film by French director Victoria Musiedlak shows the complicated daily life of a young lawyer at grips with her first homicide case

Review: First Case
Noée Abita in First Case

Screenwriter and director Victoria Musiedlak studied contemporary literature and screenwriting at the Sorbonne in Paris before stepping into the world of cinema, working for seven years as first assistant director. Behind the camera, she has directed four short films before presenting, on the Piazza Grande of the Locarno Film Festival, her debut feature, First Case [+see also:
interview: Victoria Musiedlak
film profile
, an unsettling film showing the behind-the-scenes of an often dehumanising justice system.

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A young lawyer dealing with her first homicide case, Nora is violently thrown into a ruthless world to which she feels she does not belong. Forced to take on the case of an alleged murderer, from detention to investigation, the protagonist of First Case must bend to rules she does not yet know. 

Despite a naivety so extreme as to turn into apathy, Nora does not stop looking for ways out of a professional situation that gradually gets out of hand. The cruelty of the world seems to take over her daily life, showing her that nothing is as it seems and that danger can appear at any moment. Overwhelmed by the desire for a life still to be built, Nora begins to lose her bearings, falling into a vicious circle of errors and bad judgement. What does it mean to defend a presumed criminal? What role does the lawyer play in the construction of a story that absolutely must be credible? In the film, Nora is forced to engage in heartbreaking soul-searching, with extreme and suffocating emotions she did not even believe could exist.   

First Case tells the somewhat far-fetched story of a young woman who completely succumbs to her own naivety. Whether it comes to violence, lies or intimacy, Nora seems to suffer reality, more like a lost bird that has lost its sense of direction than like a lawyer aware of her role. It is difficult to understand how this young professional, who still lives with her parents yet has an apparently “normal” social life, can be so clueless, unable even to realise that private life and work should never mix. Despite studies that went on swimmingly, Nora does not seem to know the basic rules for living in a society, as though the family nest where she has always hidden away had snuffed out her instincts. “Didn’t they teach you that at school?” her boss yells at her, both amazed and shocked by her extreme candour, when she tells him about the dilemmas associated with her first murder case.

The performance by Noée Abita, with her whispered voice, her androgynous Parisian look that recalls Edie Sedgwick, and her expressive face that still seems childlike, could have transformed Nora into an intriguing heroine of our modern times. Rather than the fruit of an intimate and personal realisation, her life education unfortunately revolves simply around a predictable (and inexplicably overwhelming) heteronormative relationship. The fascinating job of lawyer, the existential doubts of the protagonist, as well as her fragile psyche which seems to gradually crumbles from contact with the violence of the world of work, deserved to be shown head-on rather than filtered through and weighed down by psychoanalytical reflexions about frustration, whether sexual or provoked by an oppressive mother at grips with ghosts from her past. First Case is a film that starts from a good premise: the desire to show the dark side of a cruel job that does not allow for weaknesses. From this, however, it turns away too quickly, suffocated by improbabilities that weaken its purpose: the virginity of the protagonist or her complete naivety about the world.  

First Case was produced by Ligne 2 in co-production with France 2 Cinéma, and is sold internationally by Be for Films.

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(Translated from Italian)

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