Spotlight Cinema

Wednesdays at 7 pm • September 30 through November 18, 2015

Stills from top to bottom: Eden, Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, Peace Officer, Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey (Fidelio, l'odyssée d'Alice), The Assassin (Nie Yinniang), (T)ERROR, The Wonders (Le meraviglie), and Cemetery of Splendor (Rak ti Khon Kaen).                                                                     .

MMoCA’s Spotlight Cinema series returns this fall with the Madison premieres of eight critically acclaimed and award-winning narrative features and documentaries from around the world, screening every Wednesday night from September 30 through November 18. Highlights include new works by legendary directors Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Assassin), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Cemetery of Splendor), and Jafar Panahi (Jafar Panahi’s Taxi), as well as timely documentaries on police militarization (Peace Officer) and the FBI’s domestic counterterrorism measures ((T)ERROR).

Spotlight Cinema is curated by Mike King and Tom Yoshikami, and is a program of MMoCA’s education department. Funding for the series has been provided by maiahaus, Venture Investors, LLC, and an anonymous donor; with additional media support from Footlights and Yelp Madison. Ticket sales begin at 6:30 p.m. in the museum lobby; films screen at 7:00 p.m. in the lecture hall. Admission is free for MMoCA members and $7 per screening for the general public. 

2015 Schedule

September 30 · 7 pm
2014, France, 131 min., Digital
Dir.: Mia Hansen-Løve
Cast: Félix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Greta Gerwig, Brady Corbet, Arsinee Khanjian

An enthralling and euphoric portrait of the ‘90s Parisian electronic dance-music scene, Mia Hansen-Løve’s fourth feature follows best friends Paul and Stan, as they form the DJ duo Cheers and, along with their compatriots Daft Punk, plunge into the ephemeral nightlife of sex, drugs, and endless music. Based on the experiences of Hansen-Løve’s brother Sven (also a co-writer), the film – gracefully shot by Denis Lenoir – is an affecting trip through two decades of French club culture, and deftly captures the joyful camaraderie and painful hangovers of an iconic moment in music history. Those unfamiliar with French club music need not worry; the film “will make total outsiders to its planet feel involved and enthralled. It’s a hypnotic you-had-to-be-there movie that flows and drifts like a perfect night’s house mix” (Jonathan Romney, Film Comment). “Restrained but never tentative, remote yet enormously affecting, the movie’s evocation of artistic compulsion is accomplished with confidence and verve” (Critics Pick, Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times). In French with English subtitles. 

See the trailer.

October 7 · 7 pm
Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
2015, Iran, 82 min., Digital
Dir.: Jafar Panahi (uncredited)
Cast: Jafar Panahi (uncredited)

Winner of the 2015 Golden Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival, banned Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s latest clandestinely shot film is “a profound musing on the intersection of life and art” (Scott Foundas, Variety). Under house arrest for creating anti-Islamic propaganda, Panahi (This is Not a Film) cleverly sets Taxi almost entirely within the confines of a taxicab, in which, posing as a cabbie, he drives around Tehran. Presented almost in real-time over the course of one afternoon, Panahi picks up a variety of passengers whose differing world views and relationships to each other and to himself present a humanizing yet provocative portrait of modern Iranian society. Hailed by The Guardian as “freewheeling cinematic activism,” Taxi is a humane and humorous celebration of the political power of cinema. In Farsi with English subtitles.

See the trailer.

October 14 · 7 pm
Peace Officer
2015, USA, 109 min., Digital
Dirs.: Scott Christopherson, Brad Barber  

Described by Indiewire as “half Thin Blue Line-style crime procedural, half political study about the militarization and overreach of police,” Peace Officer follows the work of Dub Lawrence, a former county sheriff who established and trained Utah’s first SWAT team in the 1970s, only to witness that same unit kill his son-in-law in a controversial standoff 30 years later. Using his keen investigative skills that served him well as a cop – as a rookie he helped break the Ted Bundy case – Lawrence takes on investigating several other officer-involved shootings in his community, and starts asking questions that he himself would have bristled at years before. Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber’s gripping and provocative documentary follows Lawrence on his obsessive mission for truth and his newfound role as activist. “The first major documentary on a topic of fast-rising public interest—the increasing militarization of U.S. police departments—Peace Officer turns out to be as engrossing and well-crafted as it is timely.” (Dennis Harvey, Variety).

See the trailer.

October 21 · 7 pm
Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey (Fidelio, l'odyssée d'Alice)
2014, France, 97 min., Digital
Dir.: Lucie Borleteau  
Cast: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupaud, Anders Danielsen Lie, Pascal Tagnati, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h

"Easily the most fascinating film to come along and challenge traditional gender roles in the past year" (Variety), Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey is the emotionally complex and provocative directorial debut of Lucie Borleteau, co-writer of Claire Denis’ White Material. The film follows Alice, who, on the cusp of turning 30, leaves her fiancé ashore to join the crew of an old cargo ship as an engineer. Once on board, she discovers that she is replacing a man who has just died under mysterious circumstances and that her first great love happens to be the ship’s captain. Dramatic but not melodramatic and sexually graphic but not exploitive, Fidelio deftly captures the camaraderie and loneliness of life at sea. Ariane Labed’s powerful portrayal of a woman forced to navigate the tumultuous waters of proving her worth in an almost exclusively male world as well as her conflicting romantic desires, won her awards at numerous film festivals. In French, English, Norwegian, Romanian, and Tagalog with English subtitles.

See the trailer.

October 28 · 7 pm
The Assassin (Nie Yinniang)
2015, Taiwan, 105 min., Digital
Dir.: Hou Hsiao-hsien  
Cast: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Tsumabuki Satoshi, Juan Ching-tian

Legendary Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien (Flowers of Shanghai), famous for his sumptuous long-take cinematography and elliptical pacing, spent nearly a decade on his first foray into the wuxia genre (martial-arts period drama), the result of which has been heralded as a masterpiece. Set during the decline of the Tang Dynasty, The Assassin tells the story of Nie Yinniang, a 10-year-old daughter of an Army general, who is abducted by a nun and trained in marital arts to be an expert assassin of corrupt local politicians. After failing to complete a mission, she’s sent as punishment back to her hometown with orders to kill the man to whom she was promised, a cousin who now leads the largest military region in North China. “Groundbreaking cinema of astonishing ambition and assurance” (Geoff Andrew, Sight & Sound), The Assassin won Hou the Best Director prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and is sure to be on most year-end top-ten lists. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

See the trailer.

November 4 · 7 pm
2014, USA, 93 min., Digital
Dirs.: Lyric R. Cabral, David Felix Sutcliffe  

At turns an edge-of-your-seat political thriller and a humanizing portrait of two men swept up in the FBI’s domestic counterterrorism efforts, first-time filmmakers Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s (T)ERROR is a mesmerizing and powerful documentary on the modern surveillance state. If you’ve ever wondered how suspected potential terrorists are lured into confiding in undercover government operatives, wonder no further. Shot over the course of two years and with incredible access, the filmmakers at first follow a 63-year-old former Black Panther who, barely able to scrape by with his earnings as an FBI informant, takes on different identities to try to gain the confidence of those the FBI suspects may be future threats. Eventually, they train their lens on one of those suspects, potentially jeopardizing the FBI’s operation. “A vital exposé of American law enforcement carried out with almost reckless zeal, (T)ERROR pushes the boundaries of documentary ethics, plunging itself into the middle of an active FBI sting operation while playing both sides in an attempt to understand — and by extension, to reveal — how the U.S. government identifies and apprehends terror suspects” (Peter Debruge, Variety).

See the trailer.

November 11 · 7 pm
The Wonders (Le meraviglie)
2014, Italy/Switzerland/Germany, 110 min., Digital
Dir.: Alice Rohrwacher
Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Sabine Timoteo, Agnese Graziani

An intimate and enchanting coming-of-age tale set on a pastoral farm in central Italy, Alice Rohrwacher's second feature (her debut Corpo Celeste screened at Spotlight in 2011) won the Grand Prix award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and was recently hailed by Sofia Coppola in the New York Times as her “new favorite film.” The Wonders revolves around the efforts of a father and his eldest daughter to confront the struggles of their family beekeeping operation: the former by taking on a troubled teenage boy as a farmhand, and the latter by entering the family into a reality-TV competition showcasing ancient Etruscan culture. But both the farmhand and the TV show (featuring a fantastically dressed-up Monica Bellucci) threaten to disrupt the already tenuous family dynamic. “The Wonders never announces its themes […], but it’s a film with plenty on its mind, not least the ways in which old traditions survive in the modern world, as acts of resistance or repackaged as commodities” (Dennis Lim, Film Comment). In Italian and German with English subtitles.

See the trailer.

November 18 · 7 pm
Cemetery of Splendor (Rak ti Khon Kaen)
2015, Thailand, 122 min., Digital
Dir.: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cast: Banlop Lomnoi, Jenjira Pongpas, Jarinpattra Rueangram

One of the most exciting and imaginative directors working today, Apichatpong Weerasethakul returns to Spotlight (his film Cannes-award-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives screened in 2010) with Cemetery of Splendor, a beguiling and poetic meditation on historical memory and the battles we fight during sleep. The enigmatic plot ostensibly centers on a hospital full of soldiers who have contracted a mysterious sleeping sickness and are said suffer from troubling dreams, in which they fight battles of their country’s past, and the treatment they receive from a kindly volunteer and a clairvoyant, who uses her psychic powers to communicate with the dreaming men. Hypnotic and haunting, Cemetery of Splendor is resplendently filmed and will linger like a lucid dream long after you leave the theater.  “Few filmmakers this side of David Lynch are as adept or intuitive as Weerasethakul when it comes to appropriating the language of dreams (Justin Chang, Variety). In Thai with English subtitles.

See the trailer.