Night on Earth [1991]

Jim Jarmusch's 1991 ensemble comedy turns a gimmick into a revelation. The story begins in Los Angeles one evening at 7:07 p.m. A talent agent (Gena Rowlands) gets into the back of a taxi driven by a sullen, chain-smoking young woman (Winona Ryder), and over the course of their bumpy conversation, Rowlands's character becomes convinced that the cabby would be perfect for a particular part in a movie. Meanwhile, at that very moment, taxi drivers in New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki are all having unique encounters with a variety of fares, breaking through that invisible social barrier between the front and back seats of their cars, often to absurd or touching effect. Among them are cabby Roberto Benigni's ranting confessions to a priest, Armin Mueller-Stahl's relinquishing of the wheel to a stunned Giancarlo Esposito, and Isaach De Bankolé's relentless discussion of sight and sex with an angry, blind woman (Beatrice Dalle). What emerges is a chain of brief intimacies (not always welcomed by the characters), like a number of matches lit simultaneously across the globe, flickering brightly for a few short moments. This popular work by Jarmusch helped confirm his reputation as a fiercely independent filmmaker of rare perception, rigor, and classical sensibility matched with original thinking. --Tom Keogh

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