Girl with a Pearl Earring
- Peter Webber
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Monday, August 02, 2004
Novelist Tracy Chevalier, an admirer of Vermeer and especially his 1665 painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, always wondered what the girl in the aforementioned masterpiece meant to him, and what he meant to her. Who she was, and what their relationship was like, and how and why she ended up wearing the earring. This called for a novel, in which she imagined the story of Griet (Scarlett Johansson), a young servant, new to the Vermeer home, whose delicacy and dedication made her not only a good maid but also, eventually, an admirer of Vermeer’s work, who actually understood his view of life, and shared with him a secret bond.
Vermeer (Colin Firth), indeed a moody character, is suddenly in strange contact with the most unlikely person in his house: A young maid. Even those who support him, like his wife Catharina (Essie Davis), his mother-in-law Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt), and his patron van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), appreciate his work on different levels, mostly as a means for profit, but rarely as art. Griet herself changes too through her relationship with Vermeer; her understanding of his appreciation of life is a sort of responsibility, and everything else around means little in comparison. Her happiness depends much more on supporting the artist than on building a life of her own, which is something a young local butcher (Cillian Murphy) offers.
Olivia Hetreed’s screenplay adaptation of Chevalier’s novel has what it takes to tell the story, but if the movie works, it’s because every element in it is as detailed as those in Vermeer’s paintings. No words can describe Eduardo Serra’s cinematography, which continuously brings undeniable beauty to Dien van Straalen’s costumes and Cecile Heideman’s sets. Kudos to art director Ben van Os, and especially director Peter Webber (whose feature film debut this is) for understanding the importance of this and making it look so well, and so much like Vermeer’s work. And as an icing on the cake, Alexandre Desplat’s sumptuous score is more than one could ask for.
Now, in a less than enthusiastic note, the film could use some life once in a while. The visuals and sense of art the film possesses surely make the experience worthwhile for some, but most people might argue that the story turns slow or boring more often than not. To some of us, the scene where Vermeer catches a glance of Griet’s naked hair is as erotic as can be, but to most contemporary moviegoers, it’s just a meaningless moment. Whichever the case, the film offers as many intense moments as it’s filled with slow ones, despite the significance of every instant.
The cast is uniformly good; Johansson’s lead is strong, Firth’s support even more so, and many tasteful moments belong to Parfitt, Wilkinson, Davis, and Alakina Mann as Vermeer’s spoiled eldest child.
Gorgeous to look at, worthwhile all in all!
“I will paint you as I first saw you. Not a maid. You.”
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Other reviews of Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003): Morris