This film, adapted from a work of fiction by author Tracy Chevalier, tells a story about the events surrounding the creation of the painting "Girl With a Pearl Earring" by 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. Little is known about the girl in the painting, it is speculated that she was a maid who lived in the house of the painter along with his family and other servants, though there is no historical evidence. This masterful film attempts to recreate the mysterious girl's life. Griet, played by Scarlett Johansson, is a maid in the house of painter Johannes Vermeer, played by British actor Colin Firth. Vermeer's wealthy patron and sole means of support, Van Ruijven, commissions him to paint Griet with the intent that he will have her for himself before it is finished. She must somehow secretly pose for the crucial painting without the knowledge of Vermeer's wife, avoid Van Ruijven's grasp, and protect herself from the cruel gossip of the world of a 17th century servant. Written by
A cinematic homage to 17th Century Flemish painters (not just Vermeer). (minor spoilers)
Girl with a Pearl Earring is based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, who tells the story of a forbidden love affair (pardon the cliché) between painting master, Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth), and the only woman who seemed to appreciate his work, a timid young maid named Grit (Scarlett Johansson).
Grit is hired to work in the Vermeer household. Had you not known anything about Vermeer prior to viewing the film, it seems as though he is some deformed creature the family wishes to keep secret. The family always linger near the door to Vermeer's studio, as though something dangerous was contained within. And, as the story goes along, you might get the impression that he is a nasty fellow, the way everyone approaches the studio so delicately, careful not to disturb anything. Says one maid to Grit, he doesn't like people bothering him when he is working.
In a way, Johannes is a real bastard to his wife, children, and mother-in-law. As a painter, they're never sure whether he is going to get the commissions from the arrogant, but jolly rich patron Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), or whether they'll be escaping debtors by fleeing in the middle of the night.
Grit is curious, and at the same time, smitten with Johannes Vermeer, probably because of the initial mystery. She gains an interest in Vermeer, and in a way, also becomes his painting apprentice, helping him to mix paints, making creative suggestions about the paintings, and so forth. Vermeer introduces her to a rather different world that Grit has never known. And the two for a silent bond, a love for each other. Johannes appreciate's Grits company as a comfortable contrast to his mother-in-law, children, and especially his wife, he only seem to try to discourage his silly hobbies.
But, Johannes and Grit cannot act on their feelings for each other, at least not aloud. Divorce was highly out of the question, for one thing. But second, Johanne's was dependent on the arrogant Van Rijn for his commissions, and Van Rijn wanted Grit. Disgusted as Johannes may have been, and only slightly able to protect her (you'll see what I mean in the finale), he can't totally reject his financer. Plus, there is the barrier of master and maid, presenting a rigid social structure. And for Grit, she can only play out her affair with Johannes vicariously through her boyfriend, the Butcher.
Even if the story is not grounded in fact, or is based on little fact, the story of how Vermeer's painting, The Girl With a Pearl Earring came to be is one that presents a little mystery and romance to a painting. You can find something to appreciate it, beyond just consideration of the artistic elements of lighting or coloring, etc. In fact, art is always more fun with an intriguing story behind it (consider the controversy behind Whistler's 'Peacock Room').
I thought the movie did a fantastic job of recreating 17th century Netherlands. But what you may not know without having seen many 17 century painting, is that nearly every scene in the movie is constructed from 17 th century paintings, of Vermeers, Frans Halls, Van Dyke, and many others. The entire movie is, as one other viewer coined it, a "cinematic painting," but not just because it is a movie about the beauty of one painting, but because it is a movie entirely constructed from paintings. It was really incredible how precise everything is. Lighting, placement of figures. The actors would have to walk around a room and then at one point, hit their points precisely (props and all) to capture that one moment reflected in the painting from which it was taken from. This is really a great film for the art direction alone.
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