And on that level, it's only half successful. Nicole Kidman, in Alice-blue dresses and little-girl jumpers, gives a pale, whispery performance; her Diane seems afraid of the world. The film explores her growing intimacy with Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.), a strange, fur-covered man, frequently masked, who occupies a bizarrely decorated attic apartment in her building. (He's sort of a nonsinging Upper West Side version of the Phantom of the Opera.) Tiptoeing into his lair, equipped with white rabbits and pots of tea that say "Drink a cup," she is slowly seduced. By the time she finally embraces the beast, she's embracing herself and her newly awoken creativity.
Sounds excessively metaphorical, no? Actually "Fur" plays better than it sounds. Shainberg ("Secretary") has an artist's eye, and the colors and shadings of the camerawork (shot by Bill Pope) are murkily beautiful. Downey, always an intriguing performer, gives Lionel a boyish wistfulness that beckons behind the masks and hair. And the movie finds something mysterious in the act of photography itself: that scary, expectant instant while waiting for a flash; the persistent, metallic click of a `50s camera; the tiny moment of life frozen, for good or ill.
But Arbus (whose actual work is unseen, presumably because of rights issues) remains an enigma, and Kidman's wispy portrayal doesn't give the film the center it needs. By its end, "Fur" just sort of floats away, a celebration of a woman who isn't there.
(c) 2006, The Seattle Times.