I first reviewed this movie in August 2009. Just watched it again the other day and the cinematography is still gorgeous. A must see, if you haven't....
If you walked around our home you would find it decorated in a mostly western theme – a skull-mounted elk head over the fireplace, Dave Jensen photographs of Oregon in the halls, a Terpning Indian print over the piano and everywhere muted earth tones. However, if you poked your head into our downstairs powder room your interest would be drawn towards a seemingly out-of-place portrait of a young woman gazing back at you over her shoulder.
If you looked up close, you would notice a slightly yellowed glaze over the print that has developed a mesh of fine cracks, attesting to age, but the girl herself seems timeless – the head is covered as one from past centuries, her rounded face, deep eyes and hopelessly full lips suggest a modern woman. The hair covering strikes me as unusual for any era, a turban-like wrap of blue and white cloth. Finally, you will notice a substantial, teardrop pearl earring reflecting light from a source off to her left. She is Jan Vermeer’s “Girl With A Pearl Earring.”
The memory is foggy, but somewhere in grade school I was given a historical comic book that told the story of a boy who skated on frozen, Dutch canals and whose uncle was a painter. My imagination was captured by the descriptions of the pain-staking transformation of pigment in to paint, as well as images of seventeenth century, Dutch life. I guess that may partially explain why many years later when I first saw Vermeer’s art I claimed him as my favorite painter. Or maybe it's just because he's great. Other works I've enjoyed include “View Of Delft”, “The Milkmaid”, “Girl With A Red Hat” and “The Geographer”.
You would think that if I was such a Vermeer fan by now I would have seen the 2003 same-titled film telling a fictional tale behind this painting. Well, I did this weekend and would recommend it as a feast for the eyes. Shot after shot are framed as if painted by a Dutch master. Sets and costumes fit every image I’ve ever had of life in Holland. Lighting is a masterpiece in itself with natural and firelight giving rich contrast to the shadows of this incandescent-free time. One particularly lovely scene showed the girl, Greet, peeking through wavy glass into a candle and torch lit banquet. lt just screamed Rembrandt.
The story itself, though tolerable, was not one I would likely go back to hear. Greet, a housemaid for the Vermeer household, catches the painter’s eye and the painter’s lust. There are other men, the local butcher boy and Vermeer’s patron along with all the sexual tension you would expect in the presence of such a beauty. Vermeer’s wife eventually has enough and out goes Greet, but not before the painting is completed. You also get to endure the post-modern themes of class and gender exploitation, but I'd be surprised if those weren't major sins of the day in 1660.
The painting, by the way, sold in 1881 for two guilders and sixpence – in today’s exchange, about the same price that I paid to rent this film. It's worth it at twice the price as a special treat for the eyes. The film that is. I can’t imagine what the painting would auction for if it was ever to leave its home in The Hague.