A Rare Pearl Earring
British director, Peter Webber has turned the famous Vermeer portrait, "Girl With a Pearl Earring," into a lustrous movie. The portrait itself hangs permanently in the Mauritshuis in the Hague, capturing the imagination. The lovely young woman against a black background wearing a turban-like scarf and a single pearl earring seems to invite viewers' questions. Who was she? What did she mean to Vermeer?
Even now, no one knows the answers to the questions. The movie, based on Tracy Chevalier's worldwide bestseller, starring the excellent Colin Firth as Johannes Vermeer and the extraordinary Scarlett Johansson as Griet, the teen-age maid who becomes his obsession and muse, strives to answer them. The film can be an excellent teacher tool in high school and college studies devoted to the life and arts of this period.
Little is known about Vermeer; born in Delft in 1632, he died there in 1675, converted to Catholicism to marry is wife, Catharina, and left behind 11 children and perhaps 35 paintings. In the film, Vermeer is irresistibly drawn to the young outsider who shows intense fascination with his studio and paintings. Griet, who comes from a Protestant home, is a somewhat cosmopolitan young woman. She is only a maid in his household because her father has been suddenly incapacitated and can no longer work.
In addition to her arduous household chores, Griet has the assignment of cleaning the master's studio. Very soon, she is buying Vermeer's supplies and mixing the paints. Their growing relationship and mutual interests are clearly more enticing to Vermeer, than his perpetually pregnant, complaining wife (Essie Davis) and domineering mother-in-law Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt) who brokers his paintings to van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), a lusty acquisitive lecher who also has eyes for Griet. Her encounter with him is a heartbreaking moment.
Meanwhile, Griet must decide: Should she risk her livelihood for a painting? The women of the house will undoubtedly get rid of her. Either way, she will lose her intense connection to Vermeer.
Cinematographer Eduardo Serra renders "Girl" brilliantly with detailed and subtle beauty. It is a quiet movie with little dialogue and yet speaks volumes. (PG-13, 99 minutes.)#