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Spotlight Cinema: The Unknown Girl

  • Madison Museum of Contemporary Art 227 State Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)
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Counterpart to the Wisconsin Film Festival's spring programming, the autumn Spotlight Cinema series at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art aims to highlight the most prestigious, boundary-pushing documentaries and art cinema that have recently made the international festival rounds. Although the eight films in this Wednesday series (running through November 29) will all screen just once, their availability in the radius of downtown is encouraging in a city where new theatrical exhibitions are often limited to the far corners of the east and west sides. Curator Mike King has selected Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's new film, The Unknown Girl (La Fille Inconnue), to kick things off. This intriguing follow-up to their gracefully urgent Two Days, One Night (2014) finds the two Belgian neo-realist masters looking to the templates of film noir and the crime drama to reinvigorate their unequivocally humanist approach. After refusing to answer a late-night call for help at her Liège clinic, Doctor Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) is informed by police that an immigrant woman has been found dead without any means of identification on the banks of the Meuse. Clinging to the victim with a sense of moral responsibility, Davin takes on an obsessive quest to uncover her name and history. While the noir angle of The Unknown Girl is steadily present as Davin metaphorically sheds her lab coat for a sleuth's trenchcoat to dive into the urban underworld, the film feels more emotionally connected to the intimate paths of Kenneth Lonergan's intelligent, involving drama Margaret (2011), in which a complicated and inquisitive teenager, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), goes to great lengths to placate her guilt after a tragic event. In both films, the protagonists' personal concerns are transformed into something altruistically universal. The Dardenne Brothers' latest stands as yet another potent, empathetic comment on the struggles of the working class. —Grant Phipps