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Shooting: Oct. 25 - Feb. 24
The Island
Theatrical Release: Nov. 19, 04
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
Theatrical Release: Dec. 29, 04
A Love Song For Bobby Long
Theatrical Release: Dec. 29, 04
In Good Company
Filming Completed
Woody Allen Summer Project
Theatrical Release (UK): May 13, 2005
A Good Woman
Shooting: March 05
The Black Dahlia
Shooting: Summer 05
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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Pearl Earring' caps banner year for Scarlett Johansson, Tri City Herald, January 11, 2004, by Joe Baltake

Scarlett Johansson resembles a young Liv Ullmann in Peter Webber's exquisite debut film, "Girl With a Pearl Earring," which makes her just about perfect, at least physically, for its title role.

The bonus, however, is the remarkably still performance that Johansson gives in the film, a prime example of understatement that we've come to expect only from British actors.

Her memorable turn here represents a wonderful commingling of the right looks with the right acting decisions. No one else could have played the role of a 17th century Dutch maid who receives an unexpected education when she goes to work for a great painter.

The film takes its title from the classic painting by the light-and-shadow master, Johannes Vermeer, and it also rather creatively appropriates the style and look of a Vermeer.

Production designer Ben vas Os and his crew and the first-rate cinematographer Eduardo Serra have worked hard to approximate and, in this case, achieve the nuance and ambience of Vermeer's work. Watching this film is akin to looking over the painter's shoulder and experiencing first hand how one of his greatest achievements was created.

Adapted by Olivia Hetreed from Tracy Chevalier's novel, Webber's film speculates rather freely on the mystery that has shrouded Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring," particularly the anonymous young woman who posed for it. Together, these creative people have come up with a story of intrigue and seduction, with Serra's camera literally zooming in on the completion of the painting as Johansson morphs into Vermeer's image.

Set in 1665 Holland, "Girl With a Pearl Earring" introduces us to Johansson's Griet, a young Calvinist woman sent by her poverty-stricken parents to work in the city of Delft in the chaotic Catholic household of Vermeer. The home is overrun with children, a petulant mistress named Catharina (Essie Davis) and her mother, Maria Thina (a scary Judy Parfitt), the matriarch in charge of the place.

Griet is not a happy young woman. She misses her family, the work is demeaning, the family is unfriendly, Vermeer (played by Colin Firth, at long last shedding his matinee-idol pretensions) seems surly and his children are unruly, particularly one (Alakina Mann) who plays cruel practical jokes on Griet. Griet also has to put up with the unwelcome flirtations of Mr. Van Ruijvenom, who is Vermeer's wealthiest benefactor.

There's a little mini-drama here as everyone tries to keep on the good side of Van Ruijven, with Maria Thina bowing and scraping and turning into a sycophant around him and forever badgering the bullied Vermeer to produce more work and catch up with his commissions.

But the core of the story imagines how Griet is assigned to clean the master's studio, her decision about washing the windows there (it might change the light) and her growing interest in his work - and Vermeer's own growing interest in her.

Griet may not be educated, but she's extraordinarily sentient and seems to have an innate intelligence and natural understanding of art in general and his work in particular. Soon, she is helping him grind colored powders and mix paint (which is this film's equivalent of a sex scene), and he is inviting her to pose for him.

Vermeer asks her to take off her little habit, revealing her hair, and to wet her lips. The way Johansson does the latter makes for the most memorable sequence in the movie because she doesn't exactly do it the way anyone else would. She does it modestly, never using her tongue.

The earring she wears for the painting belongs to the newly pregnant Mrs. Vermeer, which leads to a lot of misunderstandings and accusations. The Griet in this film is a little nobody whose life could possibly be ruined by the notoriety behind the painting, but who would be immortalized by it for centuries to come. There's a sadness in the fact that she would never get to enjoy her celebrity.

With "Lost in Translation" still playing, Johansson has had a banner year.

She's already nominated for two Golden Globe awards, but I've a hunch that it's her portrayal of Griet that will win her an Oscar nomination, putting her alongside the year's other two front-runners for best actress - Charlize Theron for "Monster" and Naomi Watts for "21 Grams."

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