leave a comment --Angel Cohn
Tracy Chevalier's best-selling novel about the creation of Johannes Vermeer's famous painting is brought to luscious life by first-time director Peter Webber. Holland, 1665: Seventeen-year-old Griet (Scarlett Johansson) is forced to support her family after her father, a tile painter, suffers a debilitating kiln-related injury. Griet moves from her childhood home in sleepy Delft to work as a maid on the lavish estate of the Vermeer family. Lady of the house Catharina (Essie Davis), who's in a near-constant state of pregnancy, takes an immediate dislike to the new girl and assigns her the demanding task of cleaning Vermeer's studio, from which family members are banned. Griet shows such care in dusting the still lifes from which Vermeer (Colin Firth) paints that he eventually asks her to help mix his colors. Vermeer's appearance-conscious mother-in-law, Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt), notices his affection for Griet and encourages the relationship, since it seems to be having a positive effect on the volume of work he's able to produce — especially when Vermeer's patron, Master van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), decides he wants a portrait of the young maid. Meanwhile, Griet is torn between affection for Vermeer and her budding attraction to local butcher boy Pieter (Cillian Murphy). A 17th-century serving girl was expected to hold her tongue, so Johansson has little dialogue; one look from this talented young actress, though, speaks volumes about Griet's complex thoughts and emotions. Her subtle performance is enhanced by the efforts of the film's costume and makeup departments, who succeed in making her look astonishingly like the girl who glances over her shoulder in Vermeer's masterwork. The quiet and unconventional relationship between Johansson and Firth is refreshing to watch. Griet and Vermeer never speak about their feelings and rarely touch, yet the bond between them is clear. Webber's assured directing is evident throughout; in addition to eliciting strong performances from his cast, he always knows when to linger on an image and when to move on.