Night on Earth Movie Review

Riding around five shaded cityscapes in four different countries, Jim Jarmusch's nocturnal delight Night on Earth has the esteem of being the auteur's most accessible exercise to date while also being his least seen. After its premiere at the 29th New York Film Festival, this set of through-the-windshield vignettes was picked up for a short theatrical run in May of 1992 before it was released on VHS and only released on DVD in foreign markets (Australia put out two separate editions). That was until those noblest practitioners of cinephilia over at Criterion took a special interest in Jarmusch, releasing both Earth and his 1984 opus Stranger Than Paradise, which also includes the director's fascinating debut feature Permanent Vacation.

Throughout the course of one night, we are driven around in five separate taxi cabs that range from familiar ports of L.A. and New York City to the echoing streets of Paris and Rome to the final ride through the frozen-over metropolis of Helsinki, right as the sun is rising. In Los Angeles, a big-time agent (Gena Rowlands) tries to seduce her rough-and-tumble cab driver (an insolent Winona Ryder) into becoming an actress. While in New York, a jerky Brooklynite (the superb Giancarlo Esposito) teaches his German cab driver (Armin Mueller-Stahl) how to drive, talk, and jive correctly while also trying to escort his sister-in-law (Rosie Perez) home.

In these native habitats, the direction has a lighter touch; the material more off-the-cuff, the actors jumpy and curious. When he touches down in France, Jarmusch's tone evolves into something more seductive and dark. In Paris, an Ivorian cabbie (Isaach De Bankole) picks up a blind Parisian woman (Beatrice Dalle) after kicking out a pair of passengers for badgering him, only to begin harassng the woman about her affliction. In Rome, a madcap driver who's incapable of silence (Roberto Benigni, natch) yammers on about a cornucopia of sins, including an infidelity with his sister-in-law, to a dying priest (Paolo Bonacelli). And in the arctic dystopia of Helsinki, a forlorn valet (the great Matti Pellonpää) out-mourns a trio of drunks with the story of his ailing child, dropping them at home right as the sun begins to rise.

Episodic by nature, the set of vignettes that make up Earth look at each locale through alien eyes, as the title infers. Jarmusch's camera picks up the space and sound of these unique terrestrial habitats without glorifying them, bringing out each landscape's natural weirdness. In L.A., it's the strewn gas stations and restaurants with fried fluorescent lighting, whereas in Benigni's Rome there's the labyrinthine streets that seem to only end at random sculptures and fountains. It's a real trip to see Jarmusch's NYC open with Esposito's all-too-familiar incapability to get a cab that will venture into Brooklyn.

Essentially less stylized than the director's more prominent works (Dead Man, Down by Law), Night on Earth warmly embraces the madness of travel which gives it its own ramshackle easiness. It also ranks as the auteur's most humorous work: Rhe deft interplay of working class ethos and cultural signifiers allows for the actors to experiment not only with slapstick (Benigni) but with variant styles of comic timing (Ryder, Stahl). Yet, as accessible as it is, the film is still undeniably Jarmusch: the long takes, the open metropolitan spaces, the minimalist acting and writing. To be frank, the fact that Earth has been such an artifact for so long isn't so much a crime as it is simply foolish.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer :


Comments

Night on Earth Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 1991

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