A review of “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, nudity and adult themes

Run Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes

 

 

Steve Shainberg (“Secretary”) crafts an imaginative portrayal of artistic transformation; gutsy, ambitious, and unspeakably bizarre.

Diane Arbus was an extraordinary talent, a diffident freethinker who struggled with her inner demons while manifesting her photographic art. Marriage to fledgling fashion photographer Allan Arbus (Ty Burrell) is Diane’s (Nicole Kidman) way to break free of her upper-class roots and an emotionally abusive mother (Jane Alexander).

The seed of change sprouts in the form of a mysterious neighbor who moves into Diane’s building under the cover of night and proceeds to play loud music, entertain at odd hours and clog the building’s pipes with long shanks of hair.

For the inquisitive Diane a face-to-face meeting is all that will suffice. She’s immediately drawn to Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jr.) who suffers from a rare malady that covers him head to toe in luxuriant fur. Diane’s world is turned upside down; inexplicably drawn into a vortex of surreal imaginings and a vast circle of eccentrics.

As Diane’s friendship with Lionel intensifies so does her penchant for society’s fringe players as illustrated in her work. Her marriage suffers too, stifled by the weight of a heady physical and emotional shift.

Shainberg examines Arbus’ extraordinary path to creative freedom in vivid and often outrageous detail, a circus act of magical realism countered with the disintegration of a binding cocoon shielding an innovative spirit.

The cinematic influences are legion – “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Freaks”, “Rear Window” – the feel refreshingly avant-garde. The narrative isn’t easy, alternatively somber and wildly abstract. Running the gamut from repellent to heartbreaking to indescribably weird and intermittently bordering on the ridiculous.

 Kidman and Downey bring focused fervor to their roles and Arbus’ unique aesthetic is mirrored by Bill Pope’s vibrant lensing. Unconventional and unforgettable.