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GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, 2003
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GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING,, POSTERGIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, 2003
Movie Reviews

Directed by Peter Webber

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Cillian Murphy, Judy Parfitt, Essie Davis
Review by Paola Desiderio


SYNOPSIS:

It’s 1665 in The Netherlands and a beautiful maid, Griet (Scarlett Johansson), becomes the main inspiration of one of the greatest painters of her time, Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth), with the complicity of a pair of pearl earrings much to the disappointment of his jealous wife.

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REVIEW:

‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ is a delicate film of stunning and sophisticated visual flair. It is evocative in its tones, cinematography and pace of the time and place the film is set in: The Netherlands, 1660s. It tells the imaginary story of an artistic love affair between a humble, but stunning maid, Griet (Sarlett Johansson) and her talented and evasive employer, the painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). In the film, beautiful Griet becomes the inspiration of the most famous and emblematic of Vermeer’s masterpieces, the portrait known as: ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’, which is often referred to as the ‘Dutch Mona Lisa”.

Although very little is know on Johannes Vermeer’s life and even less on the delicate subject of his art, the film plot is detailed and complex, it is in fact not based on facts, but on an a historical novel carrying the same title and by bestselling novelist Tracy Chevalier. Chevalier brings to life a number of

characters gravitating around Vermeer’s masterpiece and imagines Vermeer as a reserved eccentric painter with a not too-well- kept secret interest for his maid Griet, a girl of humble origins and with a keen interest in painting. His jealous wife, evil daughter and perverse patron do the rest in terms of creating the dramatic tension required for the development of the story, together with Vermeer creative decision of depicting the plebeian girl in a portrait while she wears his wife’s pearl earrings.

The film is slow paced, the dialogue is often sporadic and time is diluted, but the film is cinematographically stunning, with vibrant colours and sumptuous visual appeal. Cinematographer Edoardo Serra is a master of his art in creating a frame-by-frame, at times over-indulgent, impression of the paintings and pictorial masterpieces of the time. Each frame is evocative of the so called ‘Dutch Golden Age’ of painting and many characters and scenes are constructed and inspired by Vermeer ‘s production and original paintings, some of which are actually featured or reproduced in the film. Serra brings to life paintings such as The Girl with the Wineglass, A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman, Young Woman with a Water Pitcher and The Milkmaid. Inspired by the work of Dutch painters, the cinematographer succeeds brilliantly in creating a direction of photography for first-time director Peter Webber, where each frame stands alone as a painting in its own right.

Scarlett Johansson simple, classic beauty, the exaggerated make up on the women’s cheeks, a detailed Art Direction and the costumes serve the purpose of reproducing the ethereal and eternal ghosts in Vermeer’s paintings. Griet’s many silences are filled by whispers, heavy breathing and body acting, making it not the easiest role to interpret for Johansson, who pulls it off credibly and well mainly thanks to her wide-eyed silent monologues, innocent looks and striking beauty.

It is also a relief to see Colin Firth out of his comfortable typecast classic British gentlemen interpretations. Although still slightly contrived, his bed-boy character is wilder than usual as Johannes Vermeer, portrayed as a passionate and introverted artist. His co-star Cillian Murphy, who plays Johansson character’s love interest, is the undisputed eye-candy for the ladies in the audience. His role is marginal, but his presence very effective in lifting a not incredibly eventful plot and providing some real sexual tension, in contrast with the discreet erotic innuendos scattered throughout the film. Overall ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ is maybe not the most memorable film for its content, plot and story – not much happened at the time anyway -, but it is certainly beautifully shot.

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