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Robert Downey Jr. Shines in 'Fur'
Nicole Kidman superb in Shainberg's imaginary portrait of photographer Diane Arbus
Brian Orndorf (briano)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-15 11:08 (KST)   
©2006 Picturehouse
A bored housewife and dutiful assistant to her photographer husband (Ty Burrell), Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman) is starting to feel trapped in her life. When an enigmatic man (Robert Downey Jr.) moves upstairs in her apartment building, Arbus's curiosity cannot be contained. She seeks out this stranger, almost aroused by the mystery of it all, but finds something somewhat horrifying, somewhat fantastic behind his door: a gentleman, named Lionel Sweeney, covered head to toe in hair.

Take special notice of the "Imaginary Portrait" section of the title. "Fur" doesn't span the life of Diane Arbus; heavens, it barely pays attention to her legendary photographic career. Instead, "Fur" wants to slip into the crawlspace of Arbus's mind where her frustrations turned into obsession, nurtured by a very peculiar fellow who understood the sensitive eccentricities that Arbus was impulsively drawn to.

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"Fur" is directed by Steven Shainberg, who previously explored the darker side of control in "Secretary" (a cheat of a film if there ever was one). "Fur" covers the same terrain thematically: a young, eyes-wide-open woman granted indoctrination into her heart's desires by a furry man's unusual patience and attention. "Fur" travels a more glacial, icy bend, and the seduction of artistic and romantic desires found here is a lot more interesting and, well, even considering the outlandish and fairytale-like story here, believable than anything served up in "Secretary."

This is a very calculated movie. Shainberg loves to dwell in the moment, and his symmetrical style of filmmaking draws in the viewer, effectively illustrating the need of Arbus to reach out and touch, smell, and observe her subjects. Finding herself in freak show surroundings, Arbus at last finds her place of comfort; set free to explore the voyeuristic sensibilities that would eventually define her life's work.

While the cinematography of "Fur" (by Bill Pope) is outstanding, using crisp close-ups to better expand on the observing nature of the script, it's Nicole Kidman who turns in convincing work that elevates the story when Shainberg gets wedged in the details. Kidman guides the audience through this saga of self-discovery with pliable reserve and a communicative face. She climbs into Arbus portraying a woman on the eve of her greatness, but afraid to step outside her comfort zone.

©2006 Picturehouse

Downey Jr. certainly has the more complicated role. Buried somewhere under layers of brown fur (think Chewbacca meets Teen Wolf), the actor has the great challenge of making Sweeney not only a human being with a poorly bandaged, humiliated past, but also a confidant and romantic partner to Arbus in her time of need. With hushed vocal tones and typical panache, Downey Jr. pulls off the role with ease.

No, you won't learn any Arbus history by watching "Fur." The picture is simply a fantastical hypothesis attempting to bridge the gap in Arbus's life when she made a choice to flee her responsibilities and pursue her vision. It's not the truth as the world knows it, but by taking the story to an extreme, it explains more about Arbus's artistic whims than most photographic historians could muster.

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Brian Orndorf

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