The Girl with the Pearl Earring Peter Webber

The Girl with the Pearl Earring Peter Webber
Most films about painters do a less than stellar job of conveying the complexities of the creative process. If we are to believe the movies, then personal trauma stoked the creative fires for Frida Kahlo and alcohol was the reason Jackson Pollack slathered painting on a canvas. That's fine but it's not the whole picture. Sometimes in art and film it is best to deal in the conceptual, and such is the case with Girl with the Pearl Earring. Rather than delve into biography, the film postulates what might have happened between the artist, Johannes Vermeer, and his maid, the subject for his most compelling work. Although based on a fantasy, the story is a credible one, intelligently and sensitively drawn out. Based upon the Tracy Chevalier novel of the same name, it follows Griet (Scarlett Johansson) on her first day of service in the Vermeer household, a place where being perpetually miserable seems to be the order of the day. Forced into servitude because her parents can no longer afford to keep her, Griet quickly finds herself enmeshed in the family tensions that surround her: the artist's constantly pregnant wife (Essie Davis), who suspects her charge of everything, from theft to adultery with her husband; the micro-managing mother-in-law (Judy Parfitt) desperate for the artist to pick up the pace; and his trouble-stirring daughter, who will do anything to get Griet sprung from their house. No wonder, then, that when the artist (Colin Firth) finally decides to stop brooding already and paint his new subject, chaos ensues. First time director Peter Webber and cinematographer Eduardo Serra built the film like a painting, with each frame richly coloured and subtly bathed in sumptuous light. Watching it on disc allows for satisfying viewing, providing the viewer with the opportunity to replay certain scenes and look for texture. The scenes in which Griet is posing are fantastic. The camera moves back and forth between she and Vermeer, and although nothing more overtly sexual than a look passes between them, a tension builds. The effect is stunning. Johannson has cornered the market on playing a cipher and she doesn't let us down here, quietly playing to the screen, her every move is understatement. Plus: commentary, more. (Lions Gate)