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Culture Reviews
Girl With a Pearl Earring / By P. Webber /
35 mm 
By Ryan Macalino
“Girl With a Pearl Earring” is one of those movies that has a built-in audience, and rightly so. People who are at the least bit interested in fine art are usually drawn to pictures like this. When these people come to see such movies (and there have been many), they expect to see the artist and his/her tragic lifestyle, countless inspirations, etc. They also expect to see lavish sets and settings, and imagery that would remind the viewer of the artist’s body of work.

I have always enjoyed the experience of watching these kinds of movies, despite my admitted lack of appreciation for fine art. After doing some quick Wikipedia research to alleviate this deficiency, I found out that the movie shares the same title as the masterwork of none other than Johannes Vermeer, noted Dutch painter second only to Rembrandt in stature. Despite Vermeer and this painting’s significance however (it’s been called the ‘Mona Lisa of the North’), not much is known about him, the girl in this painting, or the circumstances surrounding its creation.

But going back to the film, I could definitely say that this is not a standard movie in this genre, even though it seems to begin like one. The opening shots reveal Scarlett Johansson as Griet, whom we all know to be the aforementioned “Girl”. Immediately we assume that she will end up in a torrid love affair with Vermeer (played by Colin Firth) and he will be driven to some sort of despondence, torn between the love for his muse, his wife, and his art. The typical movie of this genre would have focused more on the sensationalism of this supposed Vermeer character, and that would have been a mistake.

Luckily, the story stays true to its title character and her story, which was based on a novel by Tracy Chevalier and adapted for the screen by Olivia Hetreed. The story of Griet is simple, and really the whole movie just concerns itself with how she came to be this “Girl”. Her life as a girl with a penchant for art, servitude to Vermeer’s household then to Vermeer himself, and her subsequent release are just plot markers. Despite this simplicity, this movie is good because it works – because the production, direction, the characters and the performances are wonderful.

With a little of creativity, director Peter Webber achieves a lot. The unusual overabundance of makeup, the careful use light and shade in interior shots, and the picturesque landscapes saturated in soft colors all contributed greatly to make this movie seem more expensive than it was. The main characters were all very interesting, both due to a strong script and great actors to fill such roles.

Hollywood “it” girl Scarlett Johansson is near-perfect as Griet, if her only failing is the fact that she doesn’t look like the girl in the actual painting. Firth is also great as Vermeer, his portrayal of the brooding artist who loves his art more than anything else is captivating. Finally, the always dependable Tom Wilkinson does not disappoint as the sniveling sponsor Van Ruijven, even though it’s obvious that his character exists only to inject external conflict into the Vermeer household.

I enjoyed this movie immensely due to the reasons above, but above all I enjoyed it for the idealized moments that occurred mostly in silence. There was a scene where Griet looked at the sky to clouds of white and realized that they were, in fact, a combination of grey, yellow, and blue. There was another where she stares one of Vermeer’s works-in-progress, moving a chair away from a window – and thus prompting Vermeer to modify his composition – because she felt the subject “looked trapped”. Then there were the scenes of Griet and Vermeer happily mixing paint together, indicating that their common bond goes much deeper than their unrequited love for each other.

Lastly, the extended scenes of Griet posing and the final shot of the painting itself forced the viewer in a state of study and examination. The movie is filled with such quiet moments, an experience much like being in a museum and finding that certain piece that puts you in the same state. This movie will have a built-in audience just like others that have come before it, but where it succeeds is that in the end, it wasn’t about the artists or the work, but the love for the craft itself.

06.08.04
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