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With: Winona Ryder, Gena Rowlands, Giancarlo Esposito, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Rosie Perez, Isaach De Bankolé, Béatrice Dalle, Roberto Benigni, Paolo Bonacelli, Matti Pellonpää, Kari Väänänen, Sakari Kuosmanen, Tomi Salmela
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
MPAA Rating: R for language and for sensuality
Running Time: 129
Date: 05/02/1992

Night on Earth (1992)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cab Bag

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth tells five short stories, set in five taxicabs in five different cities at the exact same time. Winona Ryder's scrappy "Corky," with her oversized clothes (and a flashlight of all things dangling from her belt), picks up talent scout Gena Rowlands in Los Angeles. Despite how adorable Ryder is (grease smudges on her face, backwards baseball cap, etc.), this is the most awkward segment. For some reason, Jarmusch simply couldn't coax naturalistic performances from these two, and everything feels a tad stiff. Things get better immediately in the New York segment, where new cabbie Armin Mueller-Stahl (who can't even drive a car) picks up fast-talking Giancarlo Esposito; they make fun of each other's names (Helmut and Yo-Yo) before Yo-Yo spots his feisty sister-in-law (Rosie Perez) and pulls her in the car. This one has a touching warmth, capped off by a bittersweet ending. In Paris, Isaach De Bankolé gives a ride to blind Béatrice Dalle, teaching each other a little bit about preconceived notions. Roberto Benigni is hilarious in the Rome segment, energetically singing ("I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy!") and talking to himself before picking up a priest and shocking him with a sex-laden confession. Finally we have the Helsinki episode, wherein a driver picks up three men that have been drinking all night after one of them lost his job. (The driver gives them a little perspective.) Though this is a talky movie, Jarmusch gives it plenty of atmosphere, and plenty of moments of silence as the cabs glide about the dark cities, and as he takes in various views -- both grungy and beautiful -- out the windows. His dialogue is smart and funny, and the four best stories have a complete feel; they're more than just sketches or asides. It feels like a lesser Jarmusch movie (most anthology movies do), but it's still a pleasure to watch.

In 2019, the Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-ray, which boasts a rich picture and sound (the Tom Waits song that opens the film really soars). Jarmusch approved the transfer. The rather skimpy extras include a selected-scene commentary from 2007 featuring director of photography Frederick Elmes and location sound mixer Drew Kunin, a Q&A with Jarmusch from 2007, in which he responds to questions sent in by fans; and a Belgian television interview with Jarmusch from 1992. The liner notes booklet includes five essays, one for each segment (by Thom Andersen, Paul Auster, Bernard Eisenschitz, Goffredo Fofi, and Peter von Bagh), and the lyrics for the Waits song.

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