Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003)
Review Date: December 21, 2003
Director: Peter Webber
Writer: Olivia Hetreed
Producers: Andy Paterson, Anand Tucker
Scarlett Johansson as Griet
Colin Firth as Vermeer
Tom Wilkinson as Van Ruijven
Based on the similarly titled painting by famed Dutch painter Vermeer, this is the story of the artist and the lowly maid who apparently influenced his mysterious creation. The film is set in 1664, Holland, and features plenty of pot, prostitutes and Burger Kings. Oops, sorry...that was another movie. This film is a period piece, with all of its usual trimmings, up to and including the class system and pretty costumes. A pouty-lipped Scarlett Johansson ensues...
When everything was said and done in this film, I really appreciated its premise and stunning visuals more than anything else. You know how everyone looks at a painting and interprets it in their own way-- bringing their own experiences into the mix, imagining what the person painting was thinking or doing when they created the piece, or what the relation was between the artist and the individual drawn in the portrait? Well, this movie quashes all of that and basically gives us the behind-the-scenes nitty-gritty of Dutch painter Vermeer's enigmatic "Girl with a Pearl Earring" drawing (as imagined by the screenwriters, that is, and based on a novel). What I enjoyed most about this movie was seeing how the final painting came to be through a number of steps. Purists might not appreciate this type of film because it may "take away" from the power of the art's meaning to each person, but the truth is that it's sometimes just as interesting to study the concept behind the creation as well (although I wouldn't want to know more about every single art piece out there either) Artsy mumbo-jumbo aside, I liked the general idea behind the film, along with Scarlett Johansson's incredibly low-key, yet powerful, performance as the girl with the pearl in her ear -- although I don't think she utters more than 10 lines in the entire movie, she successfully conveyed much of her emotion through her eyes, posture and full lips. The film's spectacular cinematography also rendered it the kind of movie that you could sit and watch without sound and still enjoy, if only for the beauty of its shots.
Having been born in Holland myself, I'm quite amazed that more films aren't shot there...it's definitely one of the more eye-catching countries in the world (among its other fine elements, of course) I'm not sure why they decided that the characters should have British accents instead of Dutch ones though...weird. That said, this movie is also quite slow, quite uneventful and ultimately, quite predictable. Other than Johansson and Colin Firth's artist character, the movie really doesn't integrate too many other three-dimensional characters into the game, which is a pity, since there were some folks about whom I would have loved to have known more (i.e. the mother-in-law, the wife...) A tepid semi-romance between Johansson and the star of 28 DAYS LATER, Cillian Murphy, is also unspectacular and oddly irrelevant to the big picture. The veiled tenderness between Johansson and Firth is palpable, on the other hand, and although somewhat goofy from our more contemporary point of view (grazing over each others' fingers was like a handjob back then), still romantic and appealing. There really isn't much else going on in the plot though, and there are one too many shots of either Firth standing in the shadows creepily gazing into a room or his annoying brat kid doing the same. In fact, that kid was just plain contrived: included merely for the plot's sake. But despite its problems, the film still managed to grasp me enough to recommend to anyone who appreciates period pieces (I don't usually like them, but this one was decent-didn't hurt that it was only 90 minutes), the breaking down of art and the artist, and muses. Oh, and did I mention Johansson's luscious lips? Yum-yum.
(c) 2016 Berge Garabedian