Capsule Review: Night on Earth

Jim Jarmusch stitches five vignettes into a single film in 1991’s Night on Earth. The intriguing setup follows five cabdrivers and their passengers through five international cities, shepherded along by Tom Wait’s jazzy score. As the settings move further east, it remains nighttime, placing the film in a kind of continuous witching hour. Each vignette, roughly thirty minutes, encompasses only the time the passengers enter the cab until they reach their destination. The camera remains in the taxi or in its immediate vicinity, never straying. The result is an episodic discourse on the interconnectedness and diversity of humanity. The taxis serve as confessionals, in which characters who might never otherwise interact end up sharing rather profound, or at least personal, conversations. Winona Ryder, whose youthful face shines out from underneath its layer of grease and grime like the moon itself, and Roberto Benigni, clearly having more fun than anyone else on set, play their cabbie characters with ragamuffin charm. The chapters hit different tones, moving from jocular to philosophical, but their motif of universal experience helps preserve the film’s sense of unity. Jarmusch, credited with inventing the American independent film movement with 1984’s Stranger Than Paradise, has used this structure before. The film values character and message far over plot, and by the fourth vignette the conceit can feel a bit stale. But Ryder and Benigni’s performances, as well as a short, wonderful diatribe by Rosie Perez in all her sharp-tongued, head-wagging brilliance, are worth sitting through some of Night’s slower moments.

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