NIGHT ON EARTH - Golden Oldies Finally On DVD
NIGHT ON EARTH
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: Independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has been making quirky low-budget movies and amassing a cult audience since his breakthrough film ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ made a splash at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. One of his more interesting efforts is this five-part anthology that is nothing if not offbeat (a word applied by critics to most of his work). And it’s now on Blu-ray on the Criterion Collection label. My review was published on June 5, 1992.
An unusual anthology film, “Night On Earth” is the latest from minimalist filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who wrote, directed and produced each episode in different cities around the world. (He also translated the subtitles for foreign-language sequences.)
Jarmusch, whose earlier works include "Stranger Than Paradise," "Down By Law" and "Mystery Train," specializes in spare filmmaking, deliberate stories with characters whose motivations are by and large internal and who find themselves tossed about by the winds of fate.
There's not a lot of action in his pictures; character motivation is more the order of the day, along with eccentric humor. As such, Jarmusch's movies aren't for everyone — but for the sophisticated audience he pursues there are sometimes great rewards.
Gena Rowlands, left, Winona Ryder, 'Night on Earth' (1992)
In the case of "Night On Earth," each of its five stories is set in precisely the same time period, though each is quite different.
The first has Winona Ryder as a tomboyish cabbie who picks up high-rolling Hollywood casting agent Gena Rowlands at LAX and drives her to Beverly Hills. The entire episode is made up of their conversation during the ride, the upshot being that Ryder is quite content, though she aspires to be a mechanic — and Rowlands can't believe she wouldn't rather be a movie star.
The second is set in New York, with Giancarlo Esposito, and later his sister (Rosie Perez), getting a ride from Eastern European immigrant Armin Mueller-Stahl, who can't speak English and doesn't drive very well. The soft-spoken Mueller-Stahl and the fiery Esposito and Perez are comic counterpoints, of course, but the story turns surprisingly poignant before it's over.
The third, in Paris, has a blind woman being picked up by a black cab driver — but don't expect a variation on "A Patch of Blue." This one has some gentle surprises.
The fourth is set in Rome, a riotous ride with zany cabbie Roberto Benigni spilling his life to his passengers, who react incredulously. Benigni's wild, improvisational style may remind you of Robin Williams (he's just signed on as Inspector Clouseau for a new series of "Pink Panther" films).
And finally, a cab ride in Helsinki has three drunken friends sharing tales of woe with their barely tolerant driver. This sequence is reminiscent of the films of Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki ("Leningrad Cowboys Go America," "Ariel") and features some actors from Kaurismaki’s films.
My favorites were the sweet, quiet Ryder/Rowlands piece and the hilarious Rome sequence, and Perez certainly lights up the New York sequence, though her constant stream of profanities is the primary reason for the film's R rating (there is also some sex and violence).
There are moments here that are a bit self-indulgent and certainly the film is too long at more than two hours. But this is a movie for Jarmusch fans and the general art-house crowd that appreciates offbeat humor and is looking for something quite different from the run-of-the-mill Hollywood product. To them it is highly recommended.