Night On Earth (1991)
Genre: Comedy Drama (USA, France, Germany, UK, Japan)
Starring: Winona Ryder (A Scanner Darkly, Heathers) Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful, Down By Law)
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai, Broken Flowers)
Overview: Five stories of five cabbies in five cities: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki, simple as that.
Acting: I've always liked Winona, but I've never thought she was a great actress. She just knows what movies to be in, you know? Here, I thought she was way too forced in her tomboy act. Benigni is fantastic, Matti Pellonpää as the Helsinki driver was genuinely moving, and overall it was a nice bunch of the familiar meshed with the less common foreign talent.
Cinematography: It does smack of a dated age. Every new city starts with a predictably common (yet enjoyable and serene) montage piece, showing us the night-time in the city we're in. We have standard shots that wouldn't be distracting to the mainstream, and we have the interesting international flair of the city streets. However, there's only so much you can do with the inside of a cab to make it exciting visually, and though professional, nothing spectacular going on in the looks department.
Script: Well Benigni's would have to be my favorite of the skits, it was just so out there. When he gets a priest in his cab he feels the need to confess all his sexual sins to him, but in a hilarious Benigni way, it's almost like Jarmusch wrote the part for him specifically. The Helsinki story was a great ending as it takes it down a bit and hits us with a deeper, more serious tale of perspective, a little something to walk away with. Overall a well written script, if a little predictable in the beginning.
Plot: This is compartmentalized to the point where I wondered if I should include 'Shorts' in the Genre. The first story is a casting agent's ride in Winona's car, the second, an immigrant driver taking his first trip to Brooklyn, then a Parisian (Isaach De Bankolé) drives a blind woman, Roberto Benigni cracks us up driving a priest around in Rome, and a dramatic tale is told by the driver of a Helsinki cab to a bunch of drunks. Enjoyable in its simplicity without any great common climactic events shared by the characters, much as it was with Mystery Train, actually. Simple and effective short storytelling.
Mood: I'm going to call it "The Jarmusch Effect". You watch one of his stories, something microcosmic, where most of the action takes place in a, oh let's say, ten by five taxi for example, and they all interrelate on some level with a multicultural touch to the whole, and you leave wondering what the point was. It seems to me that Jarmusch really doesn't care about teaching grand lessons, rather he reinforces the lessons we learned long ago, and sometimes with a laugh. He's still an oddity to me. I don't know how to take him. Themes? Er, slice of life, I guess.
Overall Rating: 78% (Not A Bad Night)
Aftertaste: I'm really looking forward to Down By Law and Ghost Dog, given one's about a Samurai and the other has Tom Waits in it. So far in my Jarmusch exploration I've hit film four, and none of them held great sway with me, but people seem to like him and they often recommend Johnny Depp's Dead Man to me, which I'll get around to seeing soon enough. I guess it would be nicer if I knew why he films the way he does. As long as he doesn't make movies I hate I'll be happy to keep watching.