Eye For Film >> Movies >> Night On Earth (1991) Film Review
You have to admire Jim Jarmusch. While other indie directors have fallen prey to the lure of large cheques, he has remained resolutely outside the system, yet still able to attract big name actors to work with him, such as Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai), Johnny Depp (Dead Man) and Bill Murray (Coffee And Cigarettes, Broken Flowers). Often using the most basic of premises and resources, he has continued to create a canon of quirky comedies and existential action films, delivering a resounding "F*** you" to studio suits in their shiny limousines.
Surely the first vignette of his portmanteau 1991 film Night On Earth, depicting the course of events in five different cabs across the globe on the same night, is a middle finger at these same execs. Casting agent Gena Rowlands, as it becomes clear from incessant chattering on her mobile, is stuck for a young lead for a new movie. Over the course of the ride from the airport to Beverley Hills, she comes to the conclusion that the driver, young and feisty tomboy Winona Ryder, would be perfect for the part - unknown, with no acting experience and a lot of attitude - just what the studio head is looking for. Only she isn't interested. She wants to be a mechanic, she remarks flippantly to Rowlands' astonished agent. "You don't want to be a movie star?" is the shocked reply.
There's more to life than that, Jarmusch knows. Indeed, he has said, "The beauty in life is in small details not big events," and these brief, momentary encounters encompass the whole spectrum of human emotions, from the mirthful New York sequence in which a passenger (Giancarlo Esposito) is forced to take the wheel - the Teutonic driver does not know where, or what, Brooklyn is - to the melancholic finale in snowy Helsinki, where a sorrowful Mika (Matti Pellonpaa) passes the time between customers by driving round and round the town square.
It's still largely in Jarmusch's preferred genre of tittering, offbeat comedy, though, and he conjures up some brilliant scenarios and characters. The highlights include a couple of drunken, mildly racist Cameroon businessmen and Beatrice Dalle's more than capable blind woman. Stealing the show, however, as he did in Jarmusch's earlier Down By Law, is Roberto Benigni as a Tuscan taxi driver in Rome who picks up a cleric. The star and director of the touching Holocaust comedy Life Is Beautiful, delivers a demented performance, distilling all the mannerisms and traits of a stereotypical Italian male. It's almost as if his character was one of the countryside children from [director]Federico Fellini[/film]'s Amarcord now grown up, confessing to an increasingly stunned and ill priest how, as a teenager, he relieved his urges with pumpkins, bleating mournfully for the sheep he was once in love with.
Ultimately, Night On Earth leaves you with the suspicion that Jarmusch's maxim could be applied to film also. It is pictures such as this that affirm the beauty in celluloid, not big Hollywood event movies.Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2005
If you like this, try:Coffee And Cigarettes