Girl With A Pearl Earring

Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth
Extras: Anatomy Of A Scene, Trailers

In order to make a good movie on the subject of art, the filmmakers first have to understand art, the subject of their endeavor. In the case of "Girl With A Pearl Earring" it is quite evident from the first frame that the filmmakers did indeed have a full understanding of the style and techniques of 17th century artists, such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, who is the subject of the movie. The film is now available on DVD from Lions Gate Entertainment and we eagerly decided to give this release a check-up.

Griet (Scarlett Johansson) is a young girl from a poor peasant family. To support herself she takes a job as a maid in the house of Jan Vermeer (Colin Firth), the famous Dutch painter. It provides her with a decent-enough life, warm meals and a place to sleep. Griet is responsible for cleaning the Master’s studio every day and in this position is the only one allowed entry in this, his inner sanctum, a room, which not even his wife dares enter.

Soon, Vermeer realizes that Griet has an instinctive understanding of light, color, image composition and all things visual. He teaches her some of the basics of painting and soon allows her to mix his own colors – which was the single-most important step in an artist’s repertoire as painting colors were hand-mixed to perfection and made up every artist’s absolutely unique color signature. Griet is also Vermeer’s muse and as soon as he’s finished with a commissioned painting, he would as much as only look at her work and be inspired for his next painting by her innocence, her beauty, or her posture.

Eventually Vermeer’s wife (Essie Davis) finds that her husband is spending too much time alone with the common girl and she grows increasingly jealous. When Vermeer’s patron Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) commissions a portrait of Griet the entire household makes sure that Vermeer’s wife never learns of it, but still, just as it is completed she finds out and confronts her husband, demanding to see the painting. The painting that has become known to the art world as "Girl With a Pearl Earring."

Director Peter Webber does an amazing job, bringing this 1665 art fiction to life. Very little is known about the life of Jan Vermeer and with only 35 painting to his credit, he was not the most prolific painter of his time either. But exactly that adds to the mystique of the man whose work wasn’t really appreciated by the art community until well into the 19th century. Still, things could have been the way they are presented in the film and even if they were not, it is not important, because the focus of the film is not really on the story or the characters, it is on the imagery. From the first to the last frame, "Girl With a Pearl Earring" feels like a walk through a gallery. Every single shot is composed as if it were a painting by itself. Marvelously arranged and most masterfully lit, the film conjures up visions of paintings we seem to be familiar with but don’t really exist. Careful coloration of the film, the deep, impenetrable blacks, the wonderful poses and framing of the imagery make "Girl With a Pearl Earring" a visual feast for every cineast.

Performances are good throughout, and appropriately understated. Especially Johanson’s performance as the subdued maid who barely speaks and has to keep her eyes on the floor most of the time is wonderfully real as she becomes the unwanted center of attention. What could be mistaken for a poor performance is in fact the proper way to portray a 17th century maid on the lowest rung of the social ladder.

Lions Gate Entertainment has prepared a luminous <$PS,widescreen> transfer of the movie for this DVD that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The transfer is free of blemishes or defects and the studio went to great lengths to make sure the colors of the transfer are faithfully reproduced. Every little nuance of the imagery is perfectly brought to life, and even the most subtle tints and color shifts are evident as we experience this artful film. The material presented on this DVD is very challenging for any video format and it is great to see how well DVD is handling it. From images that are starkly over-exposed for effect, to the darkest shadows and the most striking contrasts, this DVD reproduces them all effortlessly and without artifacts of any sort.

The DVD’s <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track also pays full tribute to the restrained quality of the movie. It is never aggressive in any way but always uses surround channels effectively to create a breathing, live atmosphere in which we hear laughter echo through the streets, bustling in the house or just wide, ambient silence. The movie’s music, which greatly enhances the experience of the film is wonderfully mixed and placed in the sound stage for best effect adding to the melancholy of many of the moments.

"Girl With a Pearl Earring" is a great film, though definitely not for everyone. The story is without real highlights or tension and serves mostly to drag us into the canvas that is the film. Curiously intrigued the filmmakers then take us on a quiet journey to explore the beauty of classic paintings, reminding us of the masterful artistry that defines these images and of techniques that seem long lost to us in our fast-paced fast-food MTV-induced society. For me, it was one of the most wonderful visual experiences in a very long time and I whole-heartedly recommend this movie to anyone with even a slight interest in the painting art. It is a piece of art in its own right.