FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS
Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman) is dutiful wife and mother to her photographer husband Allan (Ty Burrell), whose biggest client is Diane's bourgeois parents' fur import business in Manhattan in the 1930s. When the mysterious new neighbour moves in above their apartment, she goes to investigate. He turns out to be the enigmatic Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.), who covers his head in grotesque masks - until he chooses to reveal his uniqueness to Diane. He soon introduces her to a new world of marginalized people and this relationship unlocks Diane's sense of 'other' but also alienates her from her family.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The exotic subject matter, especially in the context of its pre-war setting, sets up expectations that the director's previous work, Secretary, tends to turbo charge. As pointed out in the promotion for the film, this is not to be taken as a strict biography, but rather as a fanciful imagining of what might have been. All the same, we are left a little deflated and frustrated by the absence of a more robust examination of the Diane Arbus ouvre of photography which, we are told, changed American photography forever.
On the other hand, the film is so complete as a single vision, and the performances so acute, that the film must be considered an artistic success. It has the potential to reverberate in our memory with its well crafted mood, with Diane's gradual metamorphosis and with the strange, melancholy demi-monde from which Lionel comes. The tragic nature of the story, its romantic echoes to Beauty and the Beast, its evocation of timeless, primal instincts and its portrait of a silent culture clash in the New York of the 30s are all elements that ensure the film's visceral impact.
Nicole Kidman is superb as the woman who blooms and goes a trifle mad at the touch of this other world inhabited by Lionel, and Robert Downey Jnr is the perfect actor for the role. Notwithstanding a woefully silly scene in which Diane helps Lionel temporarily remove the physical signs of his condition, there are metaphors aplenty about his sharing that condition in a lasting and positive way with her, which buttress the 'imaginary' aspect of the biopic. Perhaps itís precisely because it is not a factual account that Shainberg has omitted showing her work, photos of people on the fringes of society for one reason or another; that would have cemented things far too much.
This vaguely Alice in Wonderlandish story would seem far more self indulgent if it weren't for the inspired direction which gives it ballast and meaning.
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FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS (R)
CAST: Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr., Ty Burrell, Harris Yulin, Jane Alexander, Emmy Clarke
PRODUCER: Laura Bickford, Patricia Bosworth, Andrew Fierberg, William Pohlad, Bonnie Timmermann
DIRECTOR: Steven Shainberg
SCRIPT: Erin Cressida Wilson (novel by Patricia Bosworth)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bill Pope
EDITOR: Kristina Boden, Keiko Deguchi
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Amy Danger
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney (Chauvel): September 13, 2007; Melbourne (Nova) to follow
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.