Night on Earth

Extending the episodic construction of his four previous features and the principle of simultaneity underlying the last of these, Mystery Train, Jim Jarmusch creates a comic sketch film out of five taxi rides and existential encounters occurring at the same time: a teenager (Winona Ryder) driving a Hollywood casting agent (Gena Rowlands) in Los Angeles at dusk; a former circus clown from Dresden (Armin Mueller-Stahl) chauffeuring–or being chauffeured by–a streetwise hipster (Giancarlo Esposito) from Manhattan to Brooklyn, with the hipster’s sister-in-law (Rosie Perez) getting corralled en route; an angry driver from the Ivory Coast (Isaach de Bankole) picking up a self-reliant blind woman (Beatrice Dalle) in Paris; a speedy cabbie (Roberto Benigni) in Rome delivering an obscene confession to an ailing priest (Paolo Bonacelli); and a morose driver (Matti Pellonpaa) in Helsinki recounting a hard-luck story to three drunken passengers (Kari Vaananen, Saku Kuosmanen, Tomi Salmela) at dawn. Although the hints of homage (to Cassavetes, Spike Lee, Benigni himself, and the Kaurismaki brothers) usually promise more than they deliver, and the movie peaks rather early (in the second episode), Jarmusch gets a fair amount of formal play from the sameness of and/or differences between the five episodes, which helps to sustain interest in the minimalist concept. There’s a fair amount of craft and subtlety in the results, although a certain sense that Jarmusch is replaying his own golden oldies (Tom Waits is in charge of the score) is never very far away (1991). (Three Penny)

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