Night on Earth – Criterion Collection

Night on Earth -  Criterion Collection

Jim Jarmusch’s 1991 ensemble comedy turns a gimmick into a revelation. The story begins in Los Angeles one evening at 7:07 p.m. A talent agent (Gena Rowlands) gets into the back of a taxi driven by a sullen, chain-smoking young woman (Winona Ryder), and over the course of their bumpy conversation, Rowlands’s character becomes convinced that the cabby would be perfect for a particular part in a movie. Meanwhile, at that very moment, taxi drivers in New York, Paris, Rome, and Hels
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3 thoughts on “Night on Earth – Criterion Collection”

  1. If you haven’t seen this 1991 classic comedy, see it now.
    The premise is that we follow events during one night in taxis in several places around the world: New York, LA, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. The best, by far, the one I always think of first when someone mentions this incredibly funny and touching film, is the one set in Rome with Roberto Benigni as the taxi driver. He gives this rambling monologue sort of a confession about lambs and pumpkins and sex that you HAVE to see the movie to appreciate. There’s a priest in the back seat getting more and more `cardiac challenged’ by the specific nature of this confession. It’s a marvelous set piece, and I always rewind and watch that sequence at least 2-3 more times. It is just as funny on the 3rd viewing as it was on the first.
    Top notch.

  2. There isn’t much going on in Jim Jarmusch film, but there’s a lot happening beneath the surface. Even more than he is a terrific filmmaker and a wonderful screenwriter, Jarmusch is a great observer of human nature. Even though ‘Dead Man’ and ‘Ghost Dog’ are the films that gave him more widespread commercial success, these are not typical of his style; Jarmusch’s early film hardly have any plot at all, and all they give us is fragments of human lives. His approach towards his characters is always very up-close and personal, but never first-person; the viewer is always an observant, sometimes as comfortable as a close friend, sometimes too close for comfort, almost a voyeur. And yet, with his incredible insight into the human soul and what makes it tick, Jarmusch makes every one of his characters come to full life – even though there are no internal monologues, no revealing close-ups; Jarmusch creates his characters solely through their behavior; and he understands people so well, that in doing so he completely transcends the boundaries of language, culture and nationality.

    Like Jarmusch’s previous film, ‘Mystery Train’, ‘Night On Earth’ gives us several different stories about different characters from different backgrounds. This time, though, there is not the slightest connection between the stories, except a thematic one: we are shown five stories taking place in taxi cabs in five different major cities around the world.

    The first story takes place in Los Angeles, and in it is a twenty year old (but she looks seventeen at most!) Winona Ryder, fresh from her break in Beetle Juice and Edward Scissorhands, who plays a young, perky, smart-ass, chain-smoking taxi driver and gives one of the most brilliant performances of her career; opposite her is another terrific actress, Gena Rowlands, as an uptight, busy Hollywood agent.

    In the second story, taking place in New York, black Brooklyn native YoYo (Giancarlo Esposito) has a hard time getting a cab in Manhattan, and is finally picked up by Helmut, clown-turned-taxi driver, Eastern German immigrant on his first day at the job (and his first day on an automatic, as well).

    The third story is located in Paris, in which Isaac De Bankole (the unforgettable Raymond the ice cream man from ‘Ghost Dog’) plays a taxi driver who’s having a bad day, as he picks up a blind woman (Beatrice Dalle) who doesn’t make him feel much better.

    The fourth story, taking place in Rome, is practically full-out Italian comedy, with Jarmusch’s old friend Roberto Benigni plays a bizarre taxi driver who’s giving a bishop (or is he?) a hard time for his money.

    Finally, in the fifth story, located in Helsinki, the wonderful Matti Pellonpaa plays Mika, a cheery yet melancholy driver, who picks up three young drunkards and shows to them the true nature of pain.

    Each one of these stories has a very distinct and unique atmosphere, ranging from comedy to drama, and revealing, often, the different mentalities of the different countries; the humanity, though, runs all the way through. All of Jarmusch’s characters are different and yet the same; they are all equally human, and he understands them all, but each one on their own terms. Jarmusch’s observation is always brutally frank and sincere, and always loving and forgiving, for all of his characters equally. Night On Earth is sometimes sad, often funny, mostly touching and always beautiful. There may not be much going on, but it never fails to fascinate.

  3. I watched this film late at night, when every sane person is supposed to be asleep, out of their cars and in their beds. Life still goes on, however, for the taxi-drivers who move people from one quiet location to another in the wee hours of the night. The locations are quiet, but the people are not, and the dialogue in this movie is humorous, meaningful, and real. A temporary bond is formed between passenger and driver (sometimes the roles are even reversed, as in the New York vignette featuring Helmut Grokenberger and YoYo, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl and Giancarlo Esposito, respectively). Armin Mueller-Stahl, born in 1930, may be relatively unknown to American audiences (as opposed to, say, Rosie Perez), but he did play Vertikoff in the George Clooney flick “The Peacemaker” (1997). Who is the stranger at the wheel who is responsible for bringing one home? What kind of person drives late at night, waiting for the dispatcher’s call to a new address? A passenger has to pay him or her at the end of the ride, but there is still a feeling of gratitude, and even affection, towards this gruff conveyor of souls. “You’re a good man, Mika,” the half-drunk, initially hostile, Finnish workers tell their driver (played by Matti Pellonpää) at the end of their journey. Or a battle of wits takes place, as evidenced by the Paris vignette. Ivorian actor Isaach De Bankolé (who also appears in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes”) is great here as a luckless “taxiste” whose prying questions are turned against him by his blind passenger (played by Béatrice Dalle). Roberto Benigni is of course hilarious, and does here what he does best: rapid, hilarious dialogue with a lot of gesticulation and wide grins. He and the actor who plays the priest (not a bishop), Paolo Bonacelli, have been co-stars before: on the Benigni vehicle “Johnny Stecchino.”
    I am really looking forward to the time when “Night on Earth” is made available on DVD.

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