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   GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING (2003) 

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CAST
Scarlett Johansson
Colin Firth
Tom Wilkinson
Judy Parfitt
Cillian Murphy
Essie Davis
Joanna Scanlan
Alakina Mann
David Morrissey
Anna Popplewell

DIRECTED BY
Peter Webber

PURCHASE


DVD



The Novel




Time: 95 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Romance

Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Cinematography and Costume Design.


Those waiting for the onscreen translation of Tracy Chevalier's ingenious first novel should be vastly pleased with the artfully entrancing results. The right casting is key to a personal story such as this and Johansson is absolutely riveting. She gives another tremendous performance, beautifully capturing Chevalier's vexed heroine with simplicity, passion and quiet intelligence. Her range is clearly astounding when one compares this role to her other praiseworthy turn in this year's touching comedy LOST IN TRANSLATION. She brings such depth and humanity to both characters without ever being flashy. In her career Johansson has taken the road less traveled – i.e. avoided the silly high school comedy – and her selectivity has really paid off. In both GIRL and LOST her characters aren't very verbal, but her luminous eyes and revealing body language more than make up for her silence. These are two women struggling with their place in life and unwilling to be lost in the shuffle.

In the case of GIRL, Griet is a 17th century girl forced into a life of servitude, leaving her with few opportunities and at the mercy of her employers. Her job is in the home of the well-regarded artist Johannes Vermeer, who initially takes little notice of the new maid. He has other things on his mind like caring for his pregnant wife, finishing his latest painting and worrying about how he's going to support his ever-expanding family. Inspiration is hard to come by when forced to paint for cash, but he has little choice with so many mouths to feed. His wife Catharina (Davis) is desperately in love with her husband, despite the fact that she fails to understand what inspires his genius. He loves her in his own way, but when Griet shows an inherent comprehension of light, color and composition he can't help but be drawn to her uncomplicated beauty and openness.


"I will paint you as I first saw you. Not a maid. You."

In a very short time, her presence inspires artistic passion in Vermeer, unmitigated lust in his patron Van Ruijven (Wilkinson), petty hostility in his eldest daughter Cornelia (Mann) and bitter jealousy from his wife. The household relationships become emotionally charged when Van Ruijven secretly commissions Vermeer to paint a portrait of Griet for his private collection. Neither she, nor her master, has any choice in the matter. He needs the money and she needs her job. Though both enjoy the hours spent together – Griet is thrilled to model and work for such a talented artist – the secrecy and purpose of the painting lends a sordid nature to the process. Their feelings for each other become hard to hide, leading to a near disastrous end for Griet, as well as the painting. While we're led to believe that they don't act on their feelings (it's sort of left up to the viewers interpretation in both the novel and film), it's apparent to all who gaze upon the final work the emotions that were raging in their hearts.

Since nothing is known about the girl in Vermeer's famous painting one must give Chevalier kudos for inventing such a vibrant and passionate tale. It seems somewhat slow and certainly more melodramatic onscreen than it did on the page, but those issues don't really mar the experience too much. Webber truly captures the spirit of the novel, mixing the magic of the artist's world with the heartbreak of unrequited love. GIRL is a slow burn of passion and genius brilliantly brought to life by cinematographer Eduardo Serra, who turns every frame into a canvas of color and light. The cast is wonderful, each bringing something special to the endeavor. Though at heart this is a 17th century soap opera, the subtlety of the direction and performances temper the melodrama, making the more overblown moments palatable and powerful. As lovely as the film is, I couldn't help but feel, at times, a certain distance from the proceedings, like I was watching moving masterpieces. While the situations were compelling, the characters, especially Vermeer, were fairly one-dimensional, leaving me feeling a bit flat at the end. The chemistry between Firth and Johansson is palpable, but the reasons why they felt so strongly for one another are the missing piece in this love story. I hate being spoon fed, yet without the strong inner voice one gets from the novel, the film lacks the connection to the characters thoughts and emotions that made the story so powerful. Those not interested in how art is created are bound to be bored with this experience. Viewers who desire a little class with their romance will be amply rewarded.



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