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Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Instead of making a standard biopic of the legendary photog, Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman) of people with physical disabilities, Director Steven Shainberg (Secretary) has shot a fantasy based upon the start of her career. Sparkling performances by Kidman (who grows geometrically with each new role) and Robert Downey, Jr. highlight this phantasmagoric, troubling, but ultimately rewarding, film.

By eschewing a factual-based telling, Shainberg is able to create images that defy credibility, but since this is a fantasy, whoís to object? Case in point is the apartment in which Lionel Sweeney (Downey) lives above Arbus and her husband and children. They live in what appears to be a standard, middle class apartment building in New York. But Lionelís pad is something to behold. Itís got so many rooms that William Randolph Hearst would have felt it roomy. And it includes an indoor swimming pool! Not only that, but there is a connection between this apartment and Dianeís downstairs, a hole in the ceiling that contains a folding staircase.

But Shainberg isnít bound by reality. Lionel is a freak with uncontrolled hair growing all over his body, so he is too grotesque to have a real girlfriend. Despite this, Diane is entranced by his personality and his eyes and falls for him. He, in turn, encourages her talent. Prior to meeting Lionel, Diane was a dutiful wife and mother, helping her photographer husband in his career, working out of the apartment. Lionel encourages her to develop her own talent.

This is a strange movie, but it is interesting and the acting is superb, with Oscar-quality performances by both Kidman and Downey.

 

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