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Favourite Film Friday: The Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003)

Partly a fictional romance and mostly a study of life in city of Delft in the 1600s, The Girl With a Pearl Earring is based on the novel of the same name by Tracy Chevalier. A young maid named Griet (Scarlett Johansson) working in the house of master Flemish painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth) becomes his artistic inspiration and unintentionally wreaks havoc upon his marriage. Viewers are treated to an art history lesson throughout the film as the maid Griet is introduced to the various techniques that Vermeer used in his paintings. Methods such as underpainting, grinding one’s own pigments for making paints, and utilizing the then-new invention called the camera obscura (the precursor to today’s cameras), were all tricks of the trade for oil painters then and now. The old system of patronage is also shown, as the unsavoury Master van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) commissions and dictates the subject matter for Vermeer’s paintings, leading to the infamous Girl with a Pearl Earring painting.

Johansson is stellar in this film, acting mainly with her eyes and rarely speaking. As the quiet, intelligent, and observant Griet, she becomes Vermeer’s ideal apprentice and, later, the object of his affection and his muse. With her alabaster skin, gentle features, and inscrutable gaze, Johansson perfectly embodies the girl in the painting, sometimes referred to as the “Mona Lisa of the North”. The production design is gorgeous as well, flawlessly capturing the setting and time of 17th century Flanders, and the lighting of the film, mostly soft whites and smoky yellows with plenty of strong shadows, subtly echoes Vermeer’s palette. There are also some deliberate shots of food, during a banquet scene and at the market, composed upon tables like still life paintings. In fact, a number of shots are so artfully composed, usually of figures illuminated by sunlight through a window. Gorgeously filmed and acted, The Girl With a Pearl Earring is a beautifully crafted work.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 tortoiseshell combs

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