|Your account||Today's news index||Weather||Traffic||Movies||Restaurants||Today's events|
Friday, January 09, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Moira Macdonald
Griet (Scarlett Johansson), a shy teenage girl in 1665 Delft, Holland, is hired as a maid in the household of artist Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). It's an elegant but cramped and chaotic home, with numerous children, a petulant, pregnant wife (Essie Davis), a domineering mother-in-law (Judy Parfitt) and whispering servants. Griet sleeps on a pallet in a dark basement, where she can hear rats chirping, and spends her days quietly doing the tasks that the more senior servants can't be bothered with.
The one place that intrigues her is the studio where Vermeer paints a nearly bare room with tall windows letting in the gray-blue, slightly mudded-over light. Griet, who says little but whose watchful face speaks volumes, seems to understand innately that things must not be touched here, and that the tall, vaguely dissatisfied-looking artist finds peace in this room. Gradually they become not quite friends, but perhaps colleagues, mixing paints wordlessly side-by-side. Her pale beauty inspires the famous title painting, for which she wears a borrowed (and forbidden) earring, turns her head and parts her lips as if just about to speak a word of love.
It's at heart a simple story, based on Tracy Chevalier's novel (itself an imagining of the events that might have led to the painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring"). And the relationship between Vermeer and Griet brings to mind that between Johansson and Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation" a soft-faced young woman who listens, an unhappy older man who watches, a friendship both innocent and knowing, flirting with borders but not quite crossing them.
Firth who's rock-star handsome here, with flowing dark hair and needle-sharp eyes makes a startling on-screen contrast to Johansson, a wraith shrouded in a nunlike cap and veil. You can see that this man is frustrated by everyone around him: by his wife (who sobs "Why can't you paint me?"), by his gimlet-eyed mother-in-law, by the demands of his patron Van Ruijven, who leers at Griet and suggests Vermeer paint her. It's an offer that the artist can't refuse; he's as indentured as she is.
While the soulful chemistry created by the film's two stars is art in itself, mention must be made of the film's third star, director of photography Eduardo Serra ("The Wings of the Dove"). Seemingly using only candles and blue-gray skies for light, Serra creates a world so lustrous it looks rubbed with oil. Vivid smudges of color, like the startling cobalt of Vermeer's palette or the blurry pink of Johansson's lips, appear like brushstrokes among the faded umbers and grays. "Girl with a Pearl Earring," both the painting and the film, is a visual feast.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top