Thursday, July 9, 2009

Girl With a Pearl Earring (movie)

The shimmering city of Delft leaps from the pages of Tracy Chevalier's delicately descriptive novel onto the screen in the film 'Girl With a Pearl Earring'. 17th century Holland is recreated with breathtaking splendor. From the folds of the dresses to the attitudes of the day, the film stays in character and does not add Hollywood gimmicks to modernize the tale. Servants are servile and illiterate, though not necessarily unintelligent. The titular teenage maid does not have an insolent attitude.

Scarlett Johansson plays the young Griet, the daughter of a former tile painter who is sent across town to serve the Vermeer household. Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth), a painter, is drawn to Griet's quiet loveliness. Though few words pass between them, their mutual eye for aesthetics develops into strong attraction and deep appreciation. Her pure complexion also attracts Vermeer's vulgar patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) and the young butcher Pieter (Cillian Murphy).

Each frame is a painting within itself, supported by a charming score (though some have called the music obnoxious). Though every scene is beautiful, Griet's position is not romanticized; her arduous labor is evident throughout the movie. Instead of altering the story to conform to a 95 minute film, sections of the story are simply deleted or unexplained. Particularly the character of Tanneke is underdeveloped, compared to the book character.

The acting is dramatic yet understated. Expressions are affectively portrayed without losing subtlety. Johansson expressively displays the young, almost timid side of Griet. Colin Firth is an attractive Vermeer; he has natural and exciting reactions. Tom Wilkinson is surprisingly low key as Van Ruijven, compared to the character in the novel; however, he still manages to be repulsive. Essie Davis's performance is also a standout as Vermeer's insecure wife, Catharina.

'Girl With a Pearl Earring' establishes its setting in an unforgettable light, and the story has enough magic to satisfy the patient viewer.

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