So today I am reviewing one of my favorite underrated films. Night on Earth was released in 1991 and it is actually compiled of five different vignettes. Sort of like New York, I Love You, except the different scenes all came from director Jim Jarmusch’s creative mind. In one single night, we follow taxi drivers and their passengers encounter in meaningful conversations in the cab. Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. In one night we see different cultures, architectures, dialect, and some enticing individuals. I’ll break down the sequences to give you guys a taste!
The film’s first stop is in Los Angeles. Here we have a tomboy taxi driver, Corky (Winona Ryder). She picks up a Hollywood exec (Gena Rowlands) at the airport who later begins to connect with Corky despite social differences. I’m such a fan of enclosed conversations and when characters on screen really dissect their thoughts.
In New York, an older aged cab driver of East German decent, Helmut Grokenberger (Armin Mueller-Stahl) picks up Yo-Yo (Giancarlo Esposito), a young man going to Brooklyn. To Yo-Yo’s surprise it becomes quite obvious that Helmut does not really know how to drive, nor understand any American culture. The two form an unlikely bond through the remainder of the night. Helmut is a gullible and humbled man while Yo-Yo decides to teach him some culture.
The beautiful city of Paris is visited next. A cab driver from the Ivory Coast (Isaach De Bankolé) picks up a blind Parisian woman (Béatrice Dalle). The two don’t exactly see eye to eye with some things. (Unintended pun…wow.) Our cab driver doesn’t seem to be that open minded to the woman’s life with no sight. His snarky skepticism of her life shows. He shyly asks her constantly how she does everyday things like watch movies, eat food, and make love. One response was, “Sometimes I feel the film. I can hear it.” And I just love that. She is sort of romantic yet hardcore in the way she carries herself. We totally root for her.
Rome, Italy is the next destination in the film ,and believe me when I say that I hold this segment with much high praise. Before I get ahead of myself, just know that I’m posting the YouTube clip of it right below this post so be sure you watch it, friends! Roberto Benigni plays our cab driver, Gino. Let’s just talk about who Roberto Benigni is. His acting and directing in the 1997 film Life Is Beautiful, won him the Academy Award for Best Actor and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The guy is a splendid Italian comedian as well.
Benigni exudes charisma in this sequence. In the early mornings, the streets of Rome are practically deserted. Gino is just driving around being Gino and cracking wise jokes to himself. He finally stops to pick up a priest at a catholic church (Paolo Bonacelli). Gino begins to baffle the priest with his words and it is just the best. He confesses his vulgar sexual sins to the priest, and we suddenly love this dude. Benigni’s fast style of speech lets his jokes roll off the tongue so effortlessly. The certain comedy to it is golden. Such an eccentric character, Gino is.
Lastly there is a quiet and snowy night in Helsinki and our driver Mika (Matti Pellonpää) picks up three guys from a bar, one of them undoubtedly unconscious from the drinking. Mika is a very humble and private character who later helps the two conscious men realize a thing or two about their own lives with trials and tribulations. Mika’s storytelling of his life experience really opens the drunkards’ minds.
In a 1999 interview with The Guardian, director Jarmusch tells of how those city choices came to be. After a previous project fell through, Jarmusch quickly wrote up a script in only eight days, writing these stories with his actors already in mind. Wherever these acting friends of his were, he went, and that’s how the film came to be. A traveler himself, Jarmusch has seen many countries and cities that have become very dear to him. In the article he says, “I love cities, they are almost like lovers.” And goes on to say, “The cities become characters even though they’re enclosed in a cab, the atmosphere, the colour, the quality of light in each city is very different and has a different effect on the people who live there and on your emotions when you are there.”
Night on Earth is a very interesting film, and the way these different cultures operate really bring it all together and becomes such a delight to watch. I fall more in love with its charm every time.