I just saw the DVD of GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING last night – catching up on some of the fine movies of 2003 (O brother! Where are the really good movies this year???). What an exquisite film. My sister and I both kept saying, “Each scene is a masterpiece – this is a true art film!”
Just as Jan Vermeer was a master of composition and light, so is this film, directed by Peter Weber and starring Colin Firth as Vermeer and Scarlett Johansson as the serving girl, Griet.
The film is based on a novel by Tracey Chevalier. The plot is thin, or should I say ordinary. This is not to demean the story – rather everyone who knows the painting and perhaps something about Vermeer probably knows that any story about the painting must be made up.. Therefore, the simplicity of the plot befits the splendid simplicity of the painting.
I am not an art historian, but an appreciator. Once you get into film or media studies in any way, you start examining the visual composition of the “frame” or scenes for meaning. Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son is a wonderful painting to deconstruct because it uses all the techniques of composition to communicate with the viewer. So do all great artists… It is an easy step to identify these techniques and use them as criteria for judging the artistic value of a film – or even photography and print ads.
There is a scene in the film that shows Vermeer using the “camera obscura” – an early form of the camera to compose his pictures, or at least to study them. I checked this fact with the encyclopedia, and this is noted in the article there. This explains then why his works are so “picture perfect” …
Even if you know nothing of art, this film is such a work of beauty that it deserves our admiration.
If you would like to see the few masterpieces still in existence by Vermeer, check out this web site – it will enhance your appreciation of the film: