for the Week of 2/1 (Just a Bit Late):
Did you see what I saw? Yeah, isn’t that weird? It couldn’t be, could
Girl with a Pearl Earring has just about everything going
against it as there is possible. It shouldn’t work—plain and simple—but it
does. There is a mesmerizing plot, even though nothing really happens in
it. We’re attached to the characters, despite the fact that we’ve been
introduced to them with hardly any background. I don’t know if this is a
failure on the part of director Peter Webber, or an extraordinary
achievement. However, the picture is a beautiful, moody piece, bursting
with elegance in every corner and crack of its contents.
The story tells us of Griet (Scarlett Johansson), a servant girl who
finds work in the house of painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). She
rarely sees Johannes at first, mostly because of the close watch his stern
and prim mother-in-law, Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt) has over the house.
But, Griet cleans his studio each day, never moving any of the contents in
it an inch, as instructed. Johansson glances around at his work, and we
read her expressions, captivated by Griet in the same way she is with the
work of Vermeer.
From the second she first steps into the presence of her gifted
employer, his relationship with her is constantly intriguing and
uncertain. He has a desire for Griet; is it love, inspiration, respect?
Johannes’ thoughts are made clearer as the picture comes to a close, but
the hypnotizing finale still leaves much to perpend, concluding in a
manner which allows the film to linger in viewers’ minds until they are
confident in their interpretation of it.
When the picture reaches its crescendo, Johannes paints a portrait of
Griet. It’s a poignant and wonderful moment of truth; one’s response to it
will solely depend on the way they relate to Griet and her surroundings in
Webber allows Girl with a Pearl Earring to unfold
meditatively, utilizing a key sense of visual poetry, in order to
overshadow any murky and unsettling details regarding character’s
motivation. Even though I think the ambivalence of the plot would be just
fine if the story were told in a less flashy way, the methodic feel the
director utilizes makes audiences have a distinct mindset, which will
undeniably make them pay attention to detail.
The film plays out like true historical fiction should (emphasis on
fiction). It was adapted by screenwriter Olivia Hetreed from Tracy
Chevalier’s novel, which was originally based upon the real Vermeer
painting, going after the same title as the movie.
The details about the life of the model in the painting are sketchy;
her relationship to the artist isn’t even known. Johansson, though, could
simply be a clone of her, transported forward in time. She’s not only
practically identical to Vermeer’s subject, but delivers the second best
female performance of 2003 (the best being her work in Lost in
Translation), as well. Even with literally no dialogue, Johansson
peers at the world in a way we can completely understand and relate to.
The earth that the characters in Girl with a Pearl Earring
inhabit has a surreal gloss to it. It’s certainly not a wonderful place to
be, in the least bit. But, considering my reaction to the film, I am
confident that most everyone else will be just as eager to be transported
into the setting as I was. This is a marvelous picture that does something
special: creates a story with little background, and leaves us captivated
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