Sunday, April 02, 2006

Film: Night on Earth

Now it's time to write about Jim Jarmush, who might be American director with the most consistently good films. Lately, he's being cheered for his latest Cannes jury award for "Broken flowers", but I'll return to his perhaps the most reckognizable, "Night on earth", also known as "that film with five taxy drivers in five cities".
Jarmush, like his colleagues Kubrick, Woody Allen or Wenders, is a man of vision; This vision is such individual, specific idea of what good films should be like, that his films (or films of mentioned colleagues) are instantly reckognizable. Directors like him don't have to recreate their vision each time for every new film; they don't take projects and then try to make something of them: they choose projects that they know will fit into their vision (which is, perhaps, a reason why they make films less often than other directors). Their films are personal, intimate and sincere.
There's also the other kind of directors, those who vary the style and purpose of their output, some of them take work for hire, others can't settle for one particular vision; some of them are good directors all right, but I believe that the honest, directly-from-the-heart message, and then also the true art, lies in work of the first ones. They are the ones who bare in front of audience, and that's when audience is treated as friend to whom they can confess - not as annonimous faces who stumbled to the cinema. Basically, that's poetry.
When trying to define Jarmush's vision, I recall of the interview in which he concludes that he is mostly interested in scenes that usually get cut out of most of films. He is not interested in people who get the bus, he's interested in those who are waiting for it. If a character achieves his goal in 10th attempt, most of films will deal with the time he suceeded, Jarmush will, however be more interested in any of those times he fails. Films (or any fiction), by rules of drama, concentrate on specific moments, those that can be singled out from the countless number of moments, those that are different. Jarmush feels that any of those moments that aren't special by any means, moments in which nothing happens, tell of life much more - and yet, aren't any less interesting. In such moments, he finds humor, sadness and subtle touches of characters that might otherwise be lost. It is impressive that he manages to apply this vision not only to low-key dramas like "Stranger than paradise", but also to western ("Dead man") or gangster film ("Ghost dog - the way of samurai'). The result is a lot of silence, a lot of mundane conversations, confusion, looks that might be meaningless a much aseaningfull, one impression that the film isn't rushing anywhere, that it's taking it's time, enjoying the moment and not caring if, in the end, it doesn't get anywhere and doesn't reach any of phases that drama theory requires.
Jarmush has a considerable fame as the independent director. Actors whose salaries often measure in millions, agree to play in his films for hundred times smaller sums because working with Jarmushin an honor and because it guarantees a good film. He has consistantly been refusing job offers from Hollywood. He strongly believes that there is no point in making films with big, hollywood budget when equally good (if not better) film can be made for 20.000 dollars. Therefore, he makes films for little money and, although his budget has been steadily rising over the years (yet nowhere near Hollywood budgets), he is, unlike most of independent directors, not interested in being assimilated into Hollywood.
Now, how Jarmush gets inspiration for his projects is another story: sometimes, it sounds like no good film can come out of it, least the ma terpiece. Many of his films are basically vehicles for characters he liked and wanted to work with; Such is his first film "Permanent vacation"; Such is "Down by low", in which he used oportunity to work with a fascinating hyperactive comedian, back then unknown out of italy, Roberto Benigni; Such is "Ghost dog" in which he explored solemn charisma of Forest Whithaker, and then there is also "Broken flowers" with Bill Murray who, in his elder age, made the reputation as the best drama actor of all comedians.
"Stranger than paradise", his second feature and his breakthrough, was originally a short film recorded on restles of the tape from mang of one of Wenders' films, which he gave to Jarmush. After the sucess, film was lengthened, using original short as the first 1/3. "Mistery train", 3-piece placed in Memphis with Elvis' fame as light mothive, was also based on idea for a short film that was lengthened with two additional stories, and "Coffee and cigarettes" was an assembly of short sketches that he made over the years, using the oportunity on shooting of every film of his, to make a short clip with acters he was working with at the moment.
And then "Night on earth", it was, by Jarmush's testimony, made because he has friends all over America and Europe, and wanted to use making of the film as an oportunity to spend some time with each of them. Out of five stories, the one taking place in Rome was an excuse to reunite with Benigni, and the one placed in Helsinki was, no doubt, quality time spent with his friends, brother directors Aki and Mika Kaurismaki.
But Jarmush's imagination, his writing talent and then, his vision, made this film anything but the excuse. Each story of these five is a little jewel.
"Night on earth" is a five-piece film, each piece placed in a different city across the western world, each by night and each taking place in a cab. It's an ode to night taxi drivers.
Stories string going from west to east: LA, New York, Paris, Rome, Helsinki; as the geographis width grows, the night is older and older and each storry happens at different time of the night; the story in LA happens late at evening, as the night is still young and city isn't asleep yet; The last story in Helsinki happens early in the morning.
LA: Gena Rowlands is a Hollywood producer, Winona Ryder is a kid taxi driver. Intrigued, Rowlands tries to recruit the driver for a role in the film but Ryder refuses: her life is already planned out. Once, i used to admire to the simplicity of the young driver's plans and her determination; Nowadays, i feel that her plans and her simplicity were standing in the way of the spontanuity and adventure.
Ney Work: Giancarlo Esposito is an afro-american named Yoyo, Rosie Perez is his sister-in-law hispano-american, Armin Mueller-Stahl Is immigrant from east Germany named Helmut, and we are witnesses of this character and ethnical mess typical of New York. Accent it on Helmut's spiritually romantic eastern-European way of adapting to USA. Money doesn't mean anything to him, he says, but he needs it. Light comedy takes place of melancholy of the LA story.
Paris: Isaach De Bankole Is a dark-skined taxi driver who drives a blind girl played by Beatrice Dall. He is intrigued by the confidence that she shows in her blindness. He finds that the confidence has something to do with the fact that limitations of eyesight which can observe only the surface, don't apply to her. To know something means feeling it, and sometimes people who can see think that feeling it isn't neccesary. As she's leaving, he says "Take care"; "No, you take care", she says - because he needs it more.
Rome: fast slide from serious to farsic comedy: Benigni is a cab driver who insists on confessing stories of his perverted youth to abpassenger, priest with a weak heart, until he kills him. That's Rome, center of world's strongest religion at it's most conservative, shoulder to shoulder with freewheeling sexuality and medditerranean temperament. How can those two exist in one place anyway? Benigni was never better before or after this, telling his obscene text with such conviction and passion that parrodies itself.
Helsinki: A cab driver (Matti Pelonpaa) driving a few drankards, hears a sob story of one of them, then retorts with his tragic story that makes the first story a child play. Finnish language and actors remind of Aki's films, but depressing snow-white morning is nowhere near the warmness of his films.
What does it boil down to? Here's celebration to the Earth, that busy place. Whatever time of the night is you can be sure that at the same time, somewhere in the world is the busiest time of the day; Furthermore, there is life near you, in your city, people hitching cabs, attending their business; The Earth never stops, no matter how quiet our city seems at times; life's everywhere around us and many times we seem not to notice it. So different in tone, five stories evoke hidden richness of night life.
Jarmush has shown in other films that he can appreciate nature, silence, solemnity, but his heart is really in underprecciated quality of urban life, noise, fuss, life as most of us know it.


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