“You looked inside me.”
Based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, the film The Girl with the Pearl Earring is the background story of one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings. While in reality, not a great deal is known about this 17th century Dutch painter, director Peter Webber, weaves an entertaining if somewhat fanciful story around the creation of one of Vermeer’s intriguing and haunting paintings.
Griet (Scarlett Johansson) is forced by financial necessity to work as a maid at the home of Vermeer. Vermeer (Colin Firth) is a reclusive fellow, but then since he’s surrounded by the likes of his domineering mother in law (Judy Parfitt) and his unpleasant wife Catharina (Essie Davis), one can certainly understand Vermeer’s desire to escape to his studio. The entire household is dependant on Vermeer’s next painting and the continued interest of a lecherous patron Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), and so Vermeer’s productivity must be catered to. Griet is assigned the task of cleaning Vermeer’s studio. She’s the daughter of a now-blind painter, and so the studio, and Vermeer’s work fascinate her.
Vermeer is attracted to Griet as a model, but he recognizes her natural ability to understand light and mix paints. He seems intrigued with the girl, and an odd relationship develops between the two. While it seems Griet is in love with her master, Vermeer’s relationship to Griet is vague, and it’s to the film’s ultimate benefit that their relationship remains mysterious and obscure. Griet’s relationship with the butcher boy is the one weak link in the film.
The most remarkable thing about The Girl with the Pearl Earring is the director’s ability to create scenes that look just like Vermeer paintings. The banquet scene–full of rich golds, reds, and oranges–is particularly artful. So many of Vermeer’s paintings seem to catch his subjects in an interrupted moment, and the film creates scenes that resonant with the skill and beauty of Vermeer’s work. If you are a fan of Vermeer’s work, two other films that include some aspect of the painter are All The Vermeers of New York and A Zed and Two Noughts.