GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING Send This Review to a Friend
A film of uncommon beauty, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" stunningly recreates the 1665 world of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) and fashions a speculative story about the circumstances under which his famous work was born. Actress Scarlett Johansson portrays Griet, the 17-year-old household maid who becomes his inspiration, and it is difficult to imagine another actress whose demeanor and facial features are better suited to matching the character with the work of art. This is yet another astounding performance by the young actress, also so formidable this year in "Lost in Translation."
Director Peter Webber and screenwriter Olivia Hetreed, basing the film on Tracy Chevalier's novel, imagine what the relationships would be like with Vermeer's dominating mother-in-law, Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt), his jealous wife Catharina (Essie Davis), his lustful patron Pieter van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) and the persevering Vermeer (Colin Firth). Griet, portrayed as an intelligent young woman from a lower class, becomes fascinated with Vermeer's art, and he quickly recognizes her as a potential helper who also becomes his muse, much to the outrage of his wife. Van Ruijven covets Griet, but Vermeer protects her. There simmering sexuality between Vermeer and Griet, all the more sensuous because we never see it consummated.
The story is told slowly at a tempo in keeping with Vermeer's working pace and the result is extraordinary tension in which the visuals often speak more strongly than words. All is against a background of magnificent production detail that conveys the look and feeling of life in Delft at that time and of Vermeer's paintings. The cinematography and design are impeccable, making "Girl With a Pearl Earring" a visual treat from start to finish.
The leisurely, low-key approach renders this film far more believable than more supercharged biographies of artists that have come from Hollywood. It is as if we were invited into the Vermeer home as voyeurs and the result is fascinating. The ending is especially powerful as we are asked to gaze at the Vermeer painting itself, and the look of woman who is its subject ties in so well with the impression of Griet that has been implanted in our minds.
"Girl With a Pearl Earring" is among the most distinguished films of 2003. A Lions Gate Films release.