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Review by Brad Green:
I have a Jan Vermeer hanging outside my office. Unlike The Girl With The Pearl Earring who looks back over her shoulder at the viewer, it is impossible to make eye contact with The Lacemaker. More than 300 years after the master Dutch artist applied the paint that would give immortality to her expression, and even in her most humble incarnation as a cheap print on thin paper, she remains immutably absorbed in her bobbin, pins and thread. She may not be a glamorous figure, this epitome of domestic devotion, but I have come to know her well and to imagine her life beyond the paintingís eternal moment.

The girl with the pearl is a more elusive spirit. Thereís as much enigma in her round eyes and full pout as La Giocondaís smile. She doesnít invite us to speculate on her life, she insists upon it. Tracy Chevalier obliged with a best-selling novel that cast her as Griet, the artistís household maid, and the book serves as the basis for the film.†

If the obvious genre for the soundtrack was European baroque, Alexandre Desplat manages to convey the spirit of the story with a far more modern composition. It lets the costumes and scenery create the authenticity of period and place, and concentrates on capturing the psychology of the protagonists and the Dutch Golden Age.†

While his paintings inspire explorations of their sub-narratives, Vermeer himself is an intriguing figure because so few details of his life are recorded. Peter Greenaway is another to have exploited the blank canvass of his biography with the experimental opera Writing To Vermeer. Ultimately, we only really know the artist through his 30-odd authenticated works, and much like these shimmering masterpieces Desplatís†
score grabs the attention with decorative qualities and holds it with intricacies.†

Central is Grietís Theme. Its melody is played on flute against an insistent strings pulse while in the background, both during this key motif and throughout the soundtrack, scale and arpeggio patterns are run delicately on piano, harp and pitched percussion. The undulating string ostinatos are in the vein of Philip Glass but in between and across the top there are much prettier melodies to entice the casual listener than in The Hours or the Qatsi Trilogy. All the tonal colours are tidily arranged, as they must be in deference not only to the master but also the understated intuitiveness of his maid.†

If Vermeer had a genius for capturing fleeting moments and allowing them to transcend time, the soundtrack provides a constant reminder of the inexorable march of the clock in the material world. This sense of the vulgarity of quotidian experience in contrast with the higher calling of art is made manifest in the sinister cue Van Ruijven in which an immutable percussion beat thwacks along rigidly like a pendulum.

Desplat does a fine job of presenting a cohesive composition with a multitude of detours including a couple of delightful scherzos and an impressionistic cue titled Camera Obscura that almost seems to echo the reflected light and soft focus foregrounds of Vermeerís paintings.†

There is an artistic sensibility in every bar of this score that renders the anachronism of its style irrelevant. I listened to it in a chair from which I could see The Lacemaker, and the rhythms and melodies seemed to infiltrate the frame and expand it, filling out the wider spaces beyond the image. It may be a score designed to serve a particular telling of the story of The Girl With The Pearl Earring, but the real testimony to its achievement is that like a Vermeer masterpiece it sets us speculating.†

Published May 6, 2004

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TITLE: The Girl With The Pearl Earring
ID: 28947 55372
SCORE: Alexandre Desplat

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