Jim Jarmusch (Stranger than Paradise ) is a deliberately unsophisticated filmmaker. His plots are slow, his scenes shapeless, and his direction of actors unforced.
Like Aki Kaurismäki (La Vie de Bohème ), he aims for an overall effect of rambling, unspectacular, everyday drollness.
As Jarmusch's films have become more ambitious in their structure, however, they have also become less successful artistically. This is certainly the case with Night on Earth.
The film is a series of five taxi stories which happen in the course of a single night, set in different cities around the globe. They are all shaggy dog tales, in which people of very different lifestyles collide and connect for a fleeting moment.
Jarmusch aims alternately for gentle whimsy and hard-edged pathos, but only the episode featuring Armin Mueller-Stahl as an immigrant trying to cope with the jungle of New York is at all satisfying.
Jarmusch has certainly assembled an extraordinary cast of players. Some, like Gena Rowlands, effortlessly display their soulful screen charisma; while others, such as comedian Roberto Benigni, go through the paces of their usual routines. The least fortunate participants (especially Winona Ryder) flounder in thankless, ill-defined character roles.
Still, the lovely cinematography of twinkling traffic lights and deserted streets, and the eccentric musical commentary provided by Tom Waits, give the film a patina of moody, twilight poetry.
© Adrian Martin July 1993