Here are five stories set at night during winter on Planet Earth, the first beginning when veteran Hollywood talent scout Victoria Snelling (Gena Rowlands) walks off her flight and looks for a taxi. As luck would have it, just as she has been collecting her luggage and finishing up her phone call to her producer about the talented actors she has found, a cab driver, Corky (Winona Ryder) has dropped off a couple of dozing rock stars there and is looking for her next fare. Victoria accepts her offer, and they begin a journey that sees the Hollywood type wondering if she has made a new discovery...
Night on Earth was a portmanteau movie that took place in five cities and in five different taxi cabs, all courtesy of the pen of indie auteur Jim Jarmusch. You could have left this two hour long excursion wondering what the point of it all was, as none of the stories appeared to be of much consequence, yet it was the act of that in between stage where the characters were heading towards their destination and leaving their starting point which interested the director, as he strove to find something significant in a passage of time most would look upon as only productive in that you actually ended up somewhere you wanted to go, and paid little attention to the interim.
In truth, the first tale did not bode well, as Ryder, in spite of having the role written for her, failed to convince as a tough talking, chainsmoking cabbie and mechanic, and the machinations that saw Rowlands' character taking great interest in her thus never rang true as if we cannot see what was so special about Corky - she doesn't make a believable taxi driver, so how on earth would she fare as a movie star? - then an artificiality swamped the premise from the start. Thankfully, the film quickly recovered when Giancarlo Esposito was trying to get a ride to Brooklyn, and the only yellow cab that would pick him up was East German immigrant Armin Mueller-Stahl's.
These two made a great double act, again not undergoing any life-changing experiences, yet finding a connection as the local helps the foreigner - he can't really drive - and takes over at the wheel for him to get home. Along the way he sees his sister-in-law Rosie Perez, and drags her into the car for a yelling argument, but the immigrant provides a sweet distraction for them, if only for ten minutes or so. Suitably charmed, we moved on to Ivory Coast driver in Paris Isaach De Bankolé, who is not having a good night and picks up blind Béatrice Dalle, who if she could see you get the impression would be quizzing him about his oriigns, yet it is he who quizzes her about her lack of sight, and maybe learns a little.
Next up was the funniest section, an all out comedy starring Roberto Benigni as a Roman driver who escorted priest Paolo Bonacelli, who has not much to do but react though does it very well, as he demands that the holy man hear his confession. Said confession turns out to be a lurid description of various carnal desires for a pumpkin, a sheep and his sister-in-law, with unforseen consequences for the shocked passenger. Yet the final story was far more reflective, as Jarmusch paid tribute to the films of Aki Kaurasmäki for a Helsinki-based moral of counting your blessings. As expected, with the shifts in mood not every section would satisfy every viewer, but once you got past the clunky opener the quality levels were pretty high, and not half as contrived as the exacting construction made it sound. It could be Night on Earth was one of those movies perfect for watching at, well, at night. Music by Tom Waits.