Koch On Film


Volume 73, Number 42 | February 18 – 24, 2004


Koch on Film

‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ (+)

This beautiful film, based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, is filled with tableaus that enchant the eye. It takes place in 1665, and the audience is transported to that period as the characters walk the cobblestone streets of Delft Holland amidst the unique Dutch buildings which still exist today.

Griet (Scarlett Johansson) is sent by her family to work as a servant in the home of Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth), one of the greatest Dutch artists. His jealous and haughty wife, Catharina (Essie Davis), their young children, and his mother-in-law, Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt), all live under one roof. The conflicts that move the film along are between Vermeer’s oldest daughter and Griet; Catharina and Griet; the relationship of Greit and a local apprentice butcher, Pieter (Cillian Murphy), and lust on the part of Vermeer’s patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), who clearly wants to bed Greit, and Vermeer’s not so clear desire for Greit as well.

I found the cinematography extraordinary, and the acting superb, particularly that of Scarlett Johansson who is already an acclaimed star at the age of 19. But the action is deliberately slow.

In conversation with others at the end of the show, everyone said they loved it. One woman said she found it mesmerizing, and another said it was refreshing to see a film without lots of action, special effects, and violence. I doubt those qualities (deficiencies for some) currently found in so many American films are resented by most of the public, but I agree that this film provides a nice break from the regular fare. It’s like walking through a museum and enjoying the silence.

I saw the film at the Landmark Sunshine Theater on East Houston Street where I always enjoy going. I especially appreciate its stadium seating that provides unobstructed sight lines.


‘The Return’ (+)

This Russian film with English subtitles contains beautiful and occasionally breathtaking pastel-colored scenes.

The movie opens on a high platform overlooking a lake with four adolescents in swimsuits on top of a tower deciding whether or not they have the courage to jump into the lake. Two of the boys are brothers: Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov) and Andrey (VladimirGarin), about 12 and 15 years old respectively. Vanya is afraid to jump off and is tormented with anxiety that he will be ridiculed by his friends. His mother, (Natalia Vdovina), with whom the boys live, comes to retrieve and comfort him.

Days later, mom tells the boys that their father, (Konstantin Lavronenko) who left them after Andrey’s birth, has returned. With mom’s permission, dad takes the boys on an auto trip. The boys grow surly, and dad becomes angry and menacing. There are adventures along the way including a catastrophe which changes everything. The personalities of the boys are very different. Andrey wants to get along with his father, but Vanya, can’t forgive him for his absence. The acting of the two boys is outstanding.

Often the plot moves along like a good French noir film. A lot that happens is unexplained leaving one to speculate about where the father was during the past 12 years and why has he returned. Was he in prison? Is he now looking for a treasure trove? Those mysteries hover over every scene.

– Ed Koch