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Night on Earth

Night on Earth, 1991

Over the course of a single day, we see five different cabbies (Winona Ryder, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Isaach de Bankhole, Roberto Benigni, Matti Pellonpaa) in five different cities interact with a range of customers, from executives to bishops to factory workers drowning their sorrows.

Despite all of the segments having the same director, Jim Jarmusch, there was a bit more of an anthology feel than I expected. This largely has to do with the different proportions of comedy and drama in the different sections. And as is often the case with films with such chapters, certain sections were more successful than others. Still, I like all of the segments and didn't feel that there were any that really disappointed.

The first segment, with Gena Rowlands as a casting director who becomes charmed by Ryder's plucky taxi driver is fine. The writing feels a bit exaggerated at times, and I wasn't entirely sold on the chemistry between the two characters. Still, I'd watch Rowlands read a phone book, so . . .

The second segment was one I enjoyed quite a bit. Mueller-Stahl plays an immigrant cabbie who picks up Giancarlo Esposito's character, Yo-Yo, a man who can't manage to flag any other taxis. While the theme might seem a little on the nose and cheesy (two people from very different backgrounds discovering that they have a lot in common!), the actors have solid chemistry and the flow of their conversation is solid. I was kind of lukewarm on the part where Yo-Yo grabs and physically forces his girlfriend (Rosie Perez) into the cab. Despite the slapstick trappings, it just felt off to me. I did really like the segment's final note, something right on the line between comedy and melancholy, as a slightly bewildered Helmut tries to navigate the loud, bright streets of New York.

The Paris segment is fine, if a bit unexceptional. De Bankhole's taxi driver ferries around a blind woman (Beatrice Dalle) and engage in a bit of contentious flirtation. While I don't believe that every blind character must be played by a blind actor, there is something a bit hmmm about someone playing a person with a disability who infamously parked in a handicapped parking space and then attacked the person who gave her a ticket for it and I'll just leave it at that.

The Rome segment is probably the most successful, in the sense of uniting the rhythm of the writing with its delivery. Talking mile-a-minute, Benigni whips through the streets of Rome as his unfortunate passenger, a bishop, becomes more and more agitated. While originally trying to be sensitive to the sensibilities of his passenger, Benigni's rambling eventually makes its way to more and more explicit anecdotes as the bishop gropes for his heart medication. The whole thing is over the top and propelled by Benigni's hyper delivery.

The Helsinki segment rounds things out nicely, with humor that is a bit more subdued. The customers begin by bemoaning their situation--and specifically the situation of their friend who has been laid off--but the cabbie's own story of woe soon shifts their feelings toward their friend.

Overall a good series of vignettes. I had hoped that I would like it a bit more.