[box cover]

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Though the world may be fascinated with the mind of the artiste, the creative process is perhaps the hardest thing to render with cinema. Henri-George Clouzot worked magic with his 1956 film The Mystery of Picasso, and Ronald Neame's The Horse's Mouth is also excellent, but most films about painting are usually as dull as, well… watching paint dry. Peter Webber's Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) never rises above its Oscar-bait credentials, but it's painless if you enjoy looking at pretty imagery. Current "It"-girl Scarlett Johansson stars as Griet, the new maid in the house of legendary Dutch master Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). Through making her way around the house and new tasks, Griet gets the attentions of Vermeer, and he slowly begins using her to help mix paint and other assorted tasks. But their time together seems illicit, especially since Vermeer's wife Catharina (Essie Davis) won't enter his studio, and Vermeer's children don't seem to get such attentions. The Vermeer family is under the thumb of their patron Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), and though the Vermeer house looks luxurious, they must do as requested by Van Ruijven — who also has a history of taking servants as he wants. Tensions reach their boiling point when Van Ruijven requests a drawing of Griet, while Griet feels attractions to both Vermeer and the Butcher's assistant Pieter (Cillian Murphy), while also aware of Van Ruijven's prickly lust. A "what if?" fiction based on Tracy Chevalier book and Vermeer's most famous painting of the same name, because the film tries to recreate the feeling of Vermeer's work, the real star here is cinematographer Eduardo Serra, whose compositions are both stunning and painterly. The romantic tensions are well done with Firth working with as few words as possible to convey Vermeer's conflicted emotions, and for a Victorian drama, there is a startling erotic moment when Johannes takes a peek at Griet as she takes of her cap for the first time in the film. Also a draw is seeing Scarlett Johansson and Cillian Murphy (best known for his turn as the lead in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later) in a costume drama; it's certain that both will be moving on to bigger and better things. As for this entry, it's more fun to look at than actually watch. Lion's Gate's DVD release of Girl with a Pearl Earring presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include The Sundance Channel's "Anatomy of a Scene." There's also a music video featuring Scarlett Johannson, though no credit is given to the musician. Keep-case.
—DSH



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