A/V Room









Girl With a Pearl Earring (12A)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director’s commentary; Writer’s commentary; Making of featurette; Deleted scenes; Anatomy of a scene; UK theatrical trailer.

HAVING already inspired an acclaimed novel, by Tracy Chevalier, the mysterious subject of Dutch painter, Vermeer’s most famous painting now gives rise to a similarly intriguing, if overly pensive, movie.

Girl With a Pearl Earring marks the film debut of editor-turned-director, Peter Webber, and is an extremely stylish affair, which marks a triumph of subtlety over glorification. Yet its strength also proves to be a weakness.

For while the power of suggestion is to be admired for any fan of great acting, and serves to heighten the mystery surrounding Vermeer and his work, it may also deter many viewers, who could find the laborious pacing something akin to watching paint dry.

The rapidly emerging Scarlett Johansson stars as Griet, a peasant girl, who is forced to work as a maid in the home of the painter, Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth), when her own painter father is injured in a freak accident.

Her growing fascination for Vermeer’s life, and art in particular, subsequently leads to a relationship between the two that threatens her place in the household, and which eventually leads her to model for one of his most famous works.

Webber’s film, while sumptuously shot and beautifully acted, is a deeply brooding affair, which is likely to alienate as many people as it inspires.

The relationship between the two principles is always restrained and never panders to the mainstream need to spoon-feed audiences, thereby creating a film which thrives on meaningful glances and silent admiration, rather than ill-suited dialogue or physical exchanges.

As such, it is very much an actors’ piece, with both Firth and Johansson doing excellent work in their respective roles.

Johansson, in particular, provides an excellent companion piece to her similarly eye-catching turn in Lost in Translation, while Firth quietly smoulders as only he knows how. Both create a believable chemistry, which thrives on the power of suggestion and mutual appreciation.

Webber, too, deserves credit for keeping faith with his cast and never allowing things to become too showy, while also displaying a keen eye for period detail, thanks to some note-worthy camera-work. He has created a film canvass which is every bit as vivid as the piece of art itself.

It’s just that the movie occasionally feels a little too mysterious for its own good, failing to provide its tale of forbidden love with anything remotely passionate, and requiring viewers to do a little too much work in the process.

Rather like a piece of art itself, the movie is great to look at, and meticulously constructed, but a little isolated in terms of emotion. There is no great finale and no real insight into Vermeer, which may come as a disappointment to anyone seeking more.

Art fans may warm to it, as will anyone with an appreciation for period movies, but it seems unlikely to win any new fans to the genre.

As an intriguing think-piece, Girl With a Pearl Earring functions well as a ‘what if’ scenario to one of the art world’s great mysteries, but it ultimately lacks the courage of its convictions to make any bold statements.

And while its successes far outweigh its failures (some of the support performances fail to reach the standards set by its protagonists), it may ultimately prove too ‘arty’ for many. Proceed with caution.

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