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A collection of five stories involving cab drivers in five different cities. Los Angeles - A talent agent for the movies discovers her cab driver would be perfect to cast, but the cabbie is reluctant to give up her solid cab driver's career. New York - An immigrant cab driver is continually lost in a city and culture he doesn't understand. Paris - A blind girl takes a ride with a cab driver from the Ivory Coast and they talk about life and blindness. Rome - A gregarious cabbie picks up an ailing man and virtually talks him to death. Helsinki - an industrial worker gets laid off and he and his compatriots discuss the bleakness and unfairness of love and life and death. Written by
Ed Sutton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jarmusch as humanist; one of the best films of 1991
Jim Jarmusch, a director who never neglects to find the time for the little moments, glances, exchanges in dialog, that bring out the better (or lesser) in people, puts his skills to full force in Night on Earth. Another in his several episodic-style films, this time he pushes forward his great use of pure conversational, and emotional, comedy, as well as drama. In fact, this may be one of the best from the 90's of that kind that came out (i.e. mixing comedy and drama to create some bittersweet vignettes). Inspiration of course pours out from European cinema, but even in the American segments there's a sense of genuine pathos with the characters. Sometimes one style was kept totally consistent, with all comedy in episode four or all tragedy in episode five, or the two styles went back and forth like in the first two. The third remains the more ambiguous, and maybe more uncomfortable, segment of the bunch, and even if it might be the lesser of them all it's still fascinating due to the actors.
But to get back to the humanism that comes on in the film, it's not something at all uncommon to Jarmusch's work. In Ghost Dog it goes a long way to help us not be too left out of the world of Whitaker's character, or it makes every lady seem all the more odd and unique in Broken Flowers. Here since it is met with a more realistic approach, with situations that could be happening right now at night in these cities, I'm almost reminded of Renoir. Particularly in the second segment in New York, where there's the perfect divide between lightness and over-the-top- lightness being in Armin Mueller-Stahl's performance as Helmut (German ex-clown turned un-knowing cabbie) and Giancarlo Esposito's performance as Yo-yo. Maybe it's because scenes like these usually wouldn't make it into 'mainstream' fare, but a sequence like this showcases some great dialog on both sides (and when Rosie Perez comes in, all bets are off). Stahl especially makes the scenes work in-particular as he almost seems to inhabit this person of an outsider in the (taken for granted) amazing space of NYC.
To say which one was my overall favorite might be a little picky, as every one of them had something to offer differently. There was the cute, and slightly awkward, scenes with Ryder and Rowlands (maybe one of Ryder's few gems in her career too, mostly based on style). The segment in Paris, again, may make one feel a little uncomfortable, but that might be the point. And I loved how Beatrice Dalle's role went effortlessly between the bizarre and the almost ironically compassionate. It's also the segment which provides a little extra bitter of a touch by way of the Ivory Coast cabbie, however it does come to pass as being about two outsiders thrust into a strange little moment in life. Roberto Benigni's segment was drop dead funny, which is surprising considering the hit or miss ways of Jarmusch's comedy. But Benigni is so outrageous in his long monologue its no wonder what becomes of his passenger. It's a terrific mix between Benigni's voracious style of fast (but not too fast) speech, and a sort of silent-film kind of comedy, likely out of Buster Keaton or something. And all of this is accentuated by a carefully controlled mis en scene of driving (which is always visually endearing), where right when you're expecting there to be a cut it waits one or two extra seconds. It's a film with a sweet rhythm that doesn't drag like in Jarmusch at his worst.
The last segment, oddly enough, could be a downer for some. It was for me, until I decided to watch it a second time. This combines the frustration seen in bits in the other segments regarding a city life that bogs down on its inhabitants, and the sympathy that can come out even behind the tough veneer of lives lived with a shell protecting them from idiots. When it comes time for Matti Pellonpaa's monologue, it makes for the most touching, and a close-call for most emotionally striking, thing Jarmusch has ever written, put together by his portrayal. What's interesting even more so is how the film, despite this bleak story, doesn't seem to end too much on that note, due to the last little bit between Mika and Avi, the drunk passenger. In fact, after watching this a second time, I got to get the sense of what the film might be about- getting past that separation between a driver doing his job and a passenger with their own issues. It's also a small ruby of a communication fable, of how lives in different cities and countries may be of course different in speech and attitude and dress, but have similar plights to deal with in the dead of night.
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