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GIFF 2021

Series review: Sacha

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- This Swiss series doesn’t shy away from anything, treating viewers to a cruel yet cathartic story based on the life of Nicole Castioni

Series review: Sacha
Sophie Broustal and Thibaut Evrard in Sacha

Thanks to the success enjoyed by aesthetically powerful and narratively intriguing series such as the captivating Banking District, sold in a dozen or so countries, Station horizon, which was incorporated into Netflix’s catalogue, and Double vie, which is a TV adaptation of a Flemish series about a man who builds up his day-to-day life around a double cross, to devastating effect, Swiss TV series have been able to prove they know exactly what they’re doing.

An intense and somewhat destabilising series directed by Léa Fazer, Sacha is one such TV production with high aesthetic and narrative potential. Discovered in a premiere at the 27th GIFF, Sacha promises to keep audiences on the edge of their seats by way of its undeniably dramatic tension and considerable nerve.

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The series is composed of six 52-minute episodes, a concentration of suspense which successfully draws in the viewer from the very first episode, despite a few excesses in its overzealous narrative. Loosely based on the life of the former judge from Geneva Nicole Castioni, as recounted by the latter in her autobiography Le soleil au bout de la nuit (1998), Sacha is a psychological thriller which takes a head-on approach to tackling delicate topics such as prostitution, human trafficking, sexual and psychological abuse, incest and organised crime. Fifty days of intense filming allowed director Léa Fazer (in close collaboration with Nicole Castioni, who helped write the screenplay) to craft a story skilfully blending the real-life tale of Castioni’s youth - marked by five years of manipulation and violent relationships - and the fictitious element of the protagonist dismantling a dangerous human trafficking operation.

It’s a two-fold investigation: unfolding within the context of the police force and her private life, Sacha paints a brave and sincere portrait of a woman who must face up to the burden of her past in order to free herself from the quagmire of emotive mutism and to allow her to speak up about a form of abuse affecting countless women (and others). Buoyed by an almost entirely Swiss cast - Sophie Broustal (who plays judge and prosecutor Nicole Castioni masterfully), Vanille Lehmann, Michel Voïta and Thibaud Evrard - Sacha urges us to think about the perverse dynamics which might keep two people together in spite of all the violence and abuse. On this point, during an interview, Nicole Castioni enthused “Sacha is a miracle, I’m very proud that they placed their trust in me and that we managed to get this project up and running, a project which I believe to be a militant act, a testament”. Despite an overabundance of layered and interwoven stories which sometimes make the story feel too busy – Castioni’s past, dominated by sexual and psychological abuse, the more recent past in which Sacha seemed to have freed herself from the chains of prostitution and the murder investigation interlaced with the hunt for dangerous human traffickers - Sacha nonetheless manages to stay on course. It’s definitely a TV series which deserves to be watched.

Sacha is co-produced by RTS, by Geneva’s RITA Productions and by Arte.

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(Translated from Italian)

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