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Although not as popular as the 'Mona Lisa', Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer's 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' is nevertheless one of the most famous paintings ever made (often called the Dutch Mona Lisa). I found the following site's study of the painting fairly interesting. There is a lot of mystery about it, and this movie, based on Tracy Chevalier's novel of the same name, presents a version of what might have happened, who the girl might have been, how the painting might have come to be and who the characters surrounding its creation could have been. In this respect, although the movie feels like a history lesson, it is as accurate as Amadeus was: half based on facts, half based on fiction.
The story is about a maid who is hired to work at Vermeer's home. She quickly gets his attention as an ambiguous relationship starts developing between the two that brings jealousy from many in the house, including Vermeer's wife. One day, a rich patron of the arts visits the painter's home and falls for the maid: he asks of Vermeer that he makes a portrait of her.
The movie is very delicate and slow-paced, focusing on its characters and the muted passion that develops between Vermeer and the maid which eventually culminates in the creation of one of the world's most cherished works of art. This movie is very impressive in how it recreates the Netherlands of the 1660's (when the painting was approximately dated for), and gets an outstanding grade for both Art Direction and Cinematography. The attention to the details is fantastic and the beauty of every single shot in the movie is incredible. The movie looks and feels like Vermeer's work.
Performance-wise, Scarlett Johansson, who also appeared last year in the delightful Lost In Translation, plays the maid wonderfully. Colin Firth, seen recently in Love Actually, does a believable Vermeer although i personally never got engaged in his character. He seemed too distant and controlled for my taste. The rest of the cast is very competent and provides a great tapestry that supports very well the 2 main characters.
Finally, the writing matches the other detailed aspects of the movie, presenting lots of information about things of that time and place. The market scenes for instance are amazing in how detailed the shops are. One aspect of the movie that fascinated me is the great attention that was paid to the art of painting, and some of its technical underpinnings. For example, even though it is completely obvious, i never quite realized that painters at that time could not just go to their local Wallmart and buy paint! Duh! They had to buy pigments and mixtures of all kinds and make their own paints, but most importantly, create their own colors. The genius of many painters, and especially Vermeer, is about how they invented new techniques to create new colors that did not exist before. Vermeer's detailed shadows and lush colors are very much responsible for his ground breaking work making his paintings different from anything else before. His techniques in mixing together various chemicals, pigments and oils to create those colors are a key part of his genius.
This is quite a fascinating movie that plunges you in a world that is so distant from today. Although there are plenty of artistic liberties taken in retelling the story of this mesmerizing painting, the movie is shock-full of visual details, and presents some interesting facts about various aspects of the life there and there, and the art of painting at that time. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and makes watching this movie on anything but a large wide-screen display a crime. This is a film that will satisfy anyone interested in Art History.
- Laurent Hasson