My apologies to whichever friend or professor enlightened me with the following observation; I have to give credit because it is not my own. There’s a reason why so many heated, important conversations take place in cars. The automotive space is an inescapable one for its passengers, but the tableau where all seats face forward also allows confrontations to occur with an excuse to avoid eye contact.
Before HBO’s notorious “Taxicab Confessions” explored the taxi as a conversational space, there was Jim Jarmusch’s “Night on Earth.” This astutely observed and wryly humane dark comedy is an international omnibus exploring the unexpected connections that can be made across the divide between passenger and operator. The circumstances and the outcomes change with each successive city and set of characters, but the joy of observation remains unchanged throughout my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”
The segments of “Night on Earth” could easily have just amounted to a filmed version of a screenwriting challenge. (I recall one film school application I looked at requiring multiple scenes taking place in an elevator.) A shared setting may unite the vignettes, though little else does. Jarmusch begins in Los Angeles where Gena Rowlands’ wealthy passenger Victoria Snelling can never quite understand the aspirations of her driver, Winona Ryder’s Corky, to become a mechanic. He ends in Helsinki, where three ruffians allow themselves to be moved deeply by the plight of their driver. And just before that, a segment in Rome pits Roberto Benigni’s sexually frustrated cabbie against a horrified Catholic priest in a comedy reminiscent of early Woody Allen.
There’s no grand statement or thesis here. If there was, it would certainly be secondary to just taking in “Night on Earth” beat by beat with these characters. Both the journeys and the destinations are fascinating and surprising in equal measure.