Night on Earth (1991)

June 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Armin Mueller-Stahl, Rosie Perez and Giancarlo Esposito in the New York city segment of Jim Jarmusch's anthology film "Night on Earth"

Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Starring Winona Ryder, Gena Rowlands, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, Isaach de Bankole, Beatrice Dalle, Roberto Benigni, Paolo Bonacelli, Matti Pellonpää, Kari Väänänen, Sakari Kuosmanen and Tomi Salmela

Night On Earth is basically the scripted version of HBO’s Taxi Cab Confessions. It’s a brilliant, episodic observation on human commonalities and cultural differences as viewed through the prism of five taxi drivers in five cities across the globe over the course of a single night on earth, with each segment taking up the length of 30-minute television episode, with no connecting characters.

Jarmusch conceived of the project and wrote it on his own, using a very simple 6-man crew to oversee each individual segment, each shot over the course of a few weeks on location in each city using local crew members.

The brilliance is not necessarily in each individual performance or even in the dialogue- upon which this kind of movie lives and dies- but is brilliant because it manages to capture the humanity in every person depicted in the film, despite their religious, cultural, generational or geographical differences.

You will recognize most of the actors, save for the final segment in Helsinki (because how many world famous Finnish actors are there?) Some of the stories are fairly positive (The New York and Los Angeles segments), some are downright depressing but touching (Paris and Helsinki) and one is an unabashed a slap stick comedy (Rome, though that should come as no surprise since it stars the Clown Prince himself, Roberto Benigni, in a high energy performance of an absent-minded, perverse taxi driver with most of his dialogue being ad-libbed).

The performances Jarmusch pulls from his actors, particularly the Finnish actors, are very impressive and touching in one way or another. Although we may not get to know everything about each character, Jarmusch conveys the essence of each person’s personality with deft clarity in the brief amount of time they are on screen. The conversations mostly feel organic and are all interesting. The script certainly is not under stated, but it’s still highly entertaining and the film is gorgeously shot.

Night On Earth isn’t for everyone and does feel a bit longer than the 2 hours and change running time, but it’s worth a viewing because it was something different that used interesting actors and settings that films haven’t utilized in such a way before.

Jarmusch’s trademarks are all here, from the musical supervision of Tom Waits to the simple, stationary camera shots and the after-midnight time settings of most of the stories and unlike many of his more esoteric films, Night on Earth is are far more accessible and touching. Night On Earth is a minor Independent classic and a must see for the rare lover of taxi-centric sub-genre films!

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