Saturday, 3 April 2010

I Want You With Me, That's All.

After the reasonably cool reception Fur: An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane Arbus received, both critically and commercially, I wasn't expecting anything particularly spellbinding, but in the end I was quite taken with Steven Shainberg's follow up to Secretary. It's a very, very different film to his breakout indie smash from a few years earlier.

As the title would suggest, the film is not a biography of the acclaimed American photographer. Taking a biographical novel as its source material, Fur reimagines what might have created and inspired the woman behind the photographs, what might have made her the artist she became. Nicole Kidman stars as Diane, married to Alan (Ty Burrell), a studio photographer. A man, Lionel (Robert Downey Jr) moves in upstairs from where the pair live and work, but he is not really a man to begin with - he is an enigma in a mask, eyes and mouth peering out. 

Shortly after his arrival, Diane decides that she wishes to make use of the camera her husband has given her. Alan has encouraged her to pursue her own art, and she frames her desire as a project to photograph her neighbours, though she is really drawn to the mystery of Lionel. Upon convincing him to let him into her home she discovers the man behind the mask. Lionel is covered in hair, a victim of a rare condition that has seen him make quite a living as a circus freak, meaning his friends are also of that vocation - dwarves, women without arms and the like. Rather than fear, repulsion or disgust, Diane is fascinated by him. The two are drawn together as she attempts to construct in her mind how the portrait can be best imagined, all the while taking photos of his door and nothing else. As their relationship grows Alan discovers these rolls of film, helped by his and Diane's children who are noticing that their mother is growing increasingly distant both emotionally and physically. Shocked he confronts his wife, but also on some levels understands the infatuation, which may or may not be true love, and rather than trying to put a stop to the exercise allows it to continue. Lionel, however, is dying. And Diane does not yet have her portrait.

There has been talk over the last few months about Nicole Kidman and her place in the last decade. I have read a number of people both stating and repeating the statements of others acclaiming her as the actress of the decade. This is not necessarily saying that she was the best of the noughties, but rather that, in her choices of roles, she proved herself to be one of the most interesting and intriguing. And yes, look at what she has done and who she has chosen to work with. A musical by Baz Luhrmann. A quasi-experimental theatrical take on the American mid-west with Lars Von Trier. A Russian prostitute. An Anthony Minghella epic. Remakes, thrillers, animations. Watching her hasn't always paid off, but it has always kept you guessing, and for this I wholeheartedly agree with much of what is said. I, for one, have always been in camp Kidman. And this role, a risk if ever there was one, adds to that mystique. Taking on the role of an artist as almost entirely imagined through the surrealistic eye of Shainberg and his writer Erin Cressida Wilson is a risky undertaking, but she pursues it with gusto. And the work she puts in is terrific, perfectly suited to the aloof and psychologically delicate nature of Diane.

Robert Downey Jr is an actor I can't quite get my head around. I'm not entirely sure what I think of him. I think he has a lot of charisma, but I always know when I'm watching him, even when he is covered head to toe in long, thick hair. I think his charisma definitely suited this part, which needed someone you could believe Diane would be so enamoured with, but I still thought it was Robert Downey Jr.

The visuals in the film were quite striking, taking some influence from Arbus' work, but combining them with the aforementioned surreal edge. Once upstairs everything takes on a strange edge, not quite planted in reality. Reflecting the fact that the two characters are in no small way unsure not only of themselves, but of each other and the situation they find themselves, the look of the production and the nature of how they are shown is all a little off-kilter, keeping you slightly off-balance. And it works a treat.

Fur is a very, very interesting idea and the outcome was a valiant effort at trying something new. Did it work in every way? No. It all remained a little distant, not quite hitting the viscera, staying put in the intellect. But, in keeping with where Kidman has spent her last decade, it was very, very interesting. 3.5 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment