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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Art Inspires Art

I know the movie reviews are Eric's job, so I'm not going to review the movie per se. Guaranteed spoiler-free.

A painting inspires a novel inspires a film. Yes, we're talking about the much talked-about Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Vermeer's painting is beautiful and mysterious. It unlocks something in the girl's guarded heart, but we don't know exactly what it unlocks, or why it's there. Tracey Chevalier sees this unlocked emotion and crafts a beautiful story around it: The young lady Griet, whose father has been blinded in a kiln accident, becomes a maid in the Vermeer home. Her wages won't be much, but will provide cheese and bread for her family. In the painter's home, Griet grapples with homesickness, a terrible child named Cornelia, Tanneke, her difficult fellow maid, and Vermeer's entitled, emotional, ever-pregnant wife, Catharina. We see Griet's shrewdness, her cleverness, in dealing with this forces, and also her naivete in her crush on the artist. Chevalier's book is written in rich tones, every word carefully chosen to paint a picturesque story. I enjoyed the novel tremendously. I didn't loveloveloveLOVE it as much as some of my friends--I prefer a lighter style, a little more humor--but it is a gorgeous, well-crafted piece of writing, hard to put down, and I heartily recommend it.

The film is likewise gorgeous. Every shot a tableau reminiscent of a Vermeer painting. Chevalier's story is, of course, altered somewhat to suit the screen. I prefer the original arc myself; they rather hacked the ending. The pacing is a little slow, and Griet (Scarlett Johansson) loses some of her shrewdness in her transition to the screen, becoming a shuddering leaf, while Colin Firth plays a lurking Vermeer, creepier and less handsome than I had imagined. Likewise, the slow cinematography left no room for Griet's homesickness or her alliance with one of Vermeer's daughters. The movie, however, expertly contrasts the refinement of the masters' world with the garbage and dirt of the maids'. The film is beautiful and I recommend seeing it, if only for the feast of visuals, but had the film come first, I fear there would be no novel or painting.


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