GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING
Review by Ed Nguyen
Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Essie Davis, Judy Parfitt
Director: Peter Webber
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Lions Gate
Features: Anatomy of a Scene, trailers, music video
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: May 4, 2004
hard is it to paint a pretty girl?"
enthusiasts worldwide are probably familiar with the famous Dutch painting
"Girl with a Pearl Earring." A
portrait of an anonymous girl, it is a work of simple beauty and sensual allure,
emphasizing the artist's great command of composition.
The girl is adorned in an exotic costume, with a blue-yellow turban and a
solitary tear-drop pearl earring. Her
wayward glance, over the shoulder, with partially opened lips, provokes an
expression no less enigmatic than that found in the "Mona Lisa."
with a Pearl Earring," sometimes known as "Girl with a Turban" or
simply "Young Girl," was the masterwork of Flemish Golden Age painter
Johannes Vermeer (1632-75). A slow
and meticulous artist, Vermeer painted only during a brief span of twenty years
and rarely ventured beyond his home of Delft, Holland.
A perfectionist, Vermeer created barely over thirty canvases, mostly of
contemporary life scenes. Despite his low production, Vermeer is recognized today as
one of the great Dutch masters of the seventeenth-century, second perhaps only
over three centuries since its creation, "Girl with a Pearl Earring"
continues to maintain an aura of intrigue about it. Who is the painting's subject?
Is she one of Vermeer's own daughters, Maria? Or, is she the daughter of one of Vermeer's patrons or
perhaps another unidentified girl? Opinions
are further divided upon whether the painting represents a true bust length
portrait or is in actually a tronie (an archaic painting of facial features
meant to serve as a study of expression, physiognomy, or composition).
the girl's attire is mysterious. Although
Danish paintings of the day embraced a passion for the exotic as a fashion
accessory, the girl's unusual turban has no comparable antecedent in the context
of European painting. The central
gleam of the pearl earring draws our attention further inward.
For Vermeer, who commonly used pearl earrings as adornments in his
paintings, the pearl represented a symbol of purity but also of sensuality, too.
This ambiguity is what provides such allure to the painting.
the Vermeer paintings, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is also unusual in
its broad strokes. It establishes
form through vague contours and contrasting areas of light and dark rather than
by well-demarcated outlines. The
painting may even have been created with the assistance of a camera obscura, an
early precursor of the modern camera. The
painting's stylization, with its soft edges and mild abstraction, date it
perhaps to around the mid-1660's, in the central part of Vermeer's career.
mastery is readily seen in the painting's composition.
Geometric axes can be traced in the painting's form - a vertical axis
through the girl's torso and earring, and two dichotomously opposing diagonal
lines, one created of the girl's turned head and shoulders, the other traceable
through the casual fall of her flowing turban.
These lines invest subtle energy into the girl's pose, which has an
inherently-tense counterposition of a body and head moving in opposite
directions, with the girl's direct gaze peering into the eyes of the spectator.
Vermeer's use of the negative space in the painting provides an intensely
black backdrop that further focuses our attention solely upon the girl.
It is no wonder, then, that this compelling portrait is often considered
the Mona Lisa of the North.
this 19" x 16" portrait is housed in the Royal Painting Cabinet
Mauritshuis in The Hague, home to some of the most famous Dutch masterpieces of
the seventeenth century. The
portrait's mysteries may never be truly elucidated, but those very mysteries
comprise the fabric of the portrait's eternally-compelling attraction to its
the novel "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier presented an
imagined account of the painting's conception.
The novel told the story of a servant girl who, for a brief time, lived
within the Vermeer household and, capturing the artist's imagination, would
eventually become the subject of his famous painting. While there is no basis in the historical evidence to back
the novel's fictional supposition, the story nevertheless provides a romantic
notion for the passion and emotion contained within the painting.
Webber's film, Girl with a Pearl Earring
(2003), is an adaptation of the Chevalier novel. It is set in Delft, Holland, circa 1665, home to the Flemish
painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). Into
his household one day is arrived the new servant, a young girl by the name of
Griet (Scarlett Johansson). She is
the seventeen-year-old daughter of an impoverished artist who has taken ill and
has thus been compelled into servitude to help support her family.
new home is initially not a particularly happy one for her.
The mistress of the home, Catharina (Essie Davis), is a cold and distant
woman, and her children regard Griet with a palpable air of disdain.
Vermeer himself is mostly a quiet and ghostly presence, hiding away for
hours on end in his studio. Griet's
working chores are time-consuming and laborious, and her new quarters in the
cellar are small and cramped. There
is, however, one saving grace in her new home - every day, she is to enter the
studio of the painter Vermeer and to clean it while he rests.
Vermeer's studio, Griet finds her greatest contentment.
Being the daughter of an artist, she can appreciate the intricacies and
attention to the smallest detail and composition that are required to paint as a
master. In one instance, she even
hesitates to clean the studio windows for fear that in doing so, she may alter
the delicate patterns of the studio's lighting.
In this regard, she is different from everyone else in the household,
even Vermeer's wife or Machiavellian mother-in-law (Judy Parfitt), who is more
concerned with the financial prospects of Vermeer's paintings than with their
himself gradually comes to recognize in young Griet a kindred spirit.
Observing her unawares one day in his studio, Vermeer is captivated not
only by her artist's eye but also by her tranquil, plaintive nature.
Girl with a Pearl Earring,
then, is a tale of the chaste relationship that blossoms between the painter
Vermeer and young Griet. It is a
relation that arises initially between master and servant but later transforms
into one of teacher and apprentice. Vermeer
reveals secrets of his technique to his young pupil, from his underpaintings to
his use of the camera obscura. He
enlists Griet's help in the meticulous preparations of his paints.
Vermeer's appreciation and admiration of Griet is ultimately sublimated
into his inspired portrait of the servant girl.
Griet, the film's central character, Scarlett Johansson is a revelation.
Her role is one of few words, and she must communicate her emotions or
inner thoughts mostly through gestures or facial expressions.
It would be an incredibly difficult challenge for any actress, but
Johansson delivers such a remarkable and expressive performance that she
displays a level of maturity far beyond her young years.
Hers is truly an Oscar-caliber performance, and while the Academy did not
choose to honor her (years back, it had also ignored her stellar performance in
Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer),
there will come a day when Scarlett Johansson is deservedly recognized as the
best actress of her generation.
Firth, well known for his romantic roles in such films as Pride and Prejudice or Bridget
Jones's Diary, brings a smothering, brooding intensity to an otherwise
underwritten role as the painter Vermeer. We
sense in him a man completely devoted upon his artistry and paintings; there is
a tangible but understated delight in Firth's Vermeer when he realizes that in
Griet, he has discovered someone with whom he may truly share his passion for
Davis has the pitiless role as Vermeer's wife, Catharina.
The film portrays her as distant with only a superficial understanding of
Vermeer's artistry. She is discernibly jealous of young Griet, partially because
of her husband's kindly attentions towards her, but perhaps more for the young
servant girl's inherent understanding of Vermeer's work, something which
Catharina sadly lacks.
truth, there is little in the historical evidence to suggest that anyone of
Griet's nature ever worked in the Vermeer household. Furthermore, by all accounts Johannes and Catharina were a
happily married couple, and their union bore fruit to fifteen children.
Despite the film's contention that Catharina was ill-versed in the craft
of painting, it is altogether likely that she was the subject for several of
may never know the true identity of the Girl with the Pearl Earring.
It is one mystery that alludes art historians, one further enigma behind
the Girl's allure. Whatever passion
or yearning was infused into the painting's creation is now faded in the passage
of time. The film Girl
with a Pearl Earring concludes with a long close-up of the actual painting,
a final glance at Vermeer's most recognized work. The Girl is a symbol of purity and concurrently of
sensuality. Maiden, mother,
daughter, or servant girl, she looks directly at us, her expression, like the
Mona Lisa smile, beckoning us or perhaps mocking us furthermore.
TRIVIA: Many Vermeer paintings appear in this film besides its namesake.
"The Girl with a Wine Glass" appears in the parlor of van
Ruijven, one of Vermeer's patrons. Among
the other included works are "Young Woman with a Water Pitcher," which
Griet observes Vermeer painting, and "Woman with a Pearl Necklace,"
which serves as a portrait of van Ruijven's wife.
There is an allusion to "The Concert" in the way that Vermeer's
studio is arranged for certain scenes.
with a Pearl Earring
is presented in a color, anamorphic widescreen format.
The cinematography is quite painterly, using filters to give some scenes
a luminous golden glow and other scenes a bluish, subdued tint. The transfer carefully re-captures the Oscar-nominated
cinematography (by Eduardo Serra) quite well, although it is mildly grainy, with
dark scenes that occasionally swallow up image details.
There is perhaps a tad bit more debris on the print than should be
present for an essentially new film, but otherwise the film looks quite
breath-taking, almost like a painting itself.
a side note, this lush film was also rightfully nominated for art direction and
with a Pearl Earring
offers an 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack which, although not aggressive, does
create a dynamic aural environment when need be.
Furthermore, Alexandre Desplat's expressive and moving score, nominated
for a Golden Globe, glides gracefully among all the speakers, creating an
immersive, ethereal audio experience. The
film sounds as wonderful as it looks!
are relatively few extra features on this disc. First, click on the Lions Gate logo to bring up trailers for Girl
with a Pearl Earring and its soundtrack as well as a trailer for Shattered
along, there is, oddly enough, a dreary and forgettable rock music video.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is
not exactly the sort of film that lends itself to a rock soundtrack.
Fortunately, the song never appears anywhere in the actual film (disaster
averted)! How bad is this song?
Its artist is never even identified, that's how bad it is.
The video is mostly unbearable to watch except for the saving grace of
Scarlett Johansson, who has fun with the pouting pop starlet act in a guest
most significant offering is a 24-minute Sundance Channel feature, Anatomy
of a Scene, which focuses upon the dinner scene unveiling of Vermeer's
latest portrait. This is one of the
film's bigger moments, commencing with a montage that follows the preparations
for the party, the gathering of the guests, and finally the meal itself. The filmmakers discuss the costumes and set designs used, as
well as the attention given to lighting and color scheme to present an authentic
but picturesque recreation of a seventeenth-century dinner party.