Girl with a Pearl Earring

The premise behind Girl with a Pearl Earring, based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, is to provide a story for the painting of the same name by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Little is known about the life of Vermeer, so Chevalier had a blank slate to work with. As a film, Girl with a Pearl Earring leaves much to be desired. It is more a piece of moving art than a story, since nothing happens for long stretches of time. However, it is a gorgeous film to just sit and look at. In this sense, it resembles the French film The Lady and the Duke, which actually used paintings as backgrounds for the actors. Girl with a Pearl Earring does not go that far, but director Peter Webber uses light and shadow beautifully, to seemingly bring to life the world of Vermeer. One can almost see how he got his inspiration in his studio.

Vermeer (Colin Firth, Love Actually, What A Girl Wants) lived with is wife Catharina (Essie Davis, The Matrix Revolutions, The Matrix Reloaded) in her mother Maria Thin's (Judy Parfitt, The Hunt, Falling Through) house. Everything else is basically fiction. The house is full of Vermeer's young children, and his studio is on the second floor. Webber and adapter Olivia Hetreed, A Small Dance) have Firth portray Vermeer as the intense, introverted artist. He needs utter concentration when he works, and frequently broods about some surely heavy thoughts. He is intense and passionate about his work, and few other people understand how deeply art affects him. For Firth, this means he constantly furrows his brows and looks grumpy.

Enter Griet (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Eight Legged Freaks), the new family servant. Her family essentially sold her to off, and Catharina takes an instant dislike to her. One of her jobs is to clean Vermeer's studio, where she is enraptured by Vermeer's work. Vermeer notices her attention, and also discovers that she has an artistic sensibility about her. She is able to look beyond the conventional and see the inner beauty of things. Catharina, who does not have this kind of insight, notices this, which increases her hatred towards Griet. Griet and Vermeer circle each other warily, beginning a slow and unfruitful semi-romance. This is essentially all of Girl with a Pearl Earring. There is another subplot involving Vermeer's patron (Tom Wilkinson, The Importance of Being Earnest, Black Knight), who lusts after Griet, and Pieter (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later, Disco Pigs), the son of the local butcher, who has a crush on Griet.

The pacing, or lack of one, is what slows the film to a crawl. There is no real plot for Webber to work for, so it seems like he is frequently stalling for time. Moments of silent angst between Vermeer and Griet would have much more meaning if interspersed with something else, but there is nothing else. Firth and Johansson give subdued performances, helping to set a funereal pace. The only thing keeping the viewer going is the knowledge that eventually, Vermeer will get around to painting the picture the film is based on. When this moment finally does arrive, it holds a surprising amount of emotion. Partially because Vermeer and Griet can finally get some sort of physical contact with each other, and partially because something is actually happening on screen.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.

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