MOULIN ROUGE (2001) 

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Nicole Kidman
Ewan McGregor
John Leguizamo
Jim Broadbent
Richard Roxburgh
Kylie Minogue
Christine Anu
Jacek Koman
Garry McDonald
Matthew Whittet
Kerry Walker
David Wenham

Baz Luhrmann




Time: 126 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Musical/Romance/Drama

Won Academy Awards for Art Direction and Costume Design. Nominations for Best Actress, Film Editing, Cinematography, Makeup, Sound and Best Picture.

All I can say is thank God I live in a city that gets movies early. Having heard much about this film and being a huge musical fan, I was excited to be able to be among the first audiences to see this movie. Lurhmann is a director who fills every frame with visual delights, but never forgets that a film needs heart to work. The plot of the film is nothing brilliant or new, a mix of the same old musical basics – true love fighting against all odds in the midst of developing and performing the most amazing show every created. That's what makes it familiar. What makes your blood churn with excitement is the camera movements and the modern music and lyrics to tell the story. I wasn't sure how this would all turn out. I had listened to the soundtrack several times before going to the theater and though the music was entrancing it was strange to hear such classics like Elton John's "Your Song" and the Police's "Roxanne" so differently portrayed. And yet, this is exactly why the film works so well.

In their heyday, musicals used the songs of the day which made the audience more comfortable with the fact that the actors are bursting into verse every other minute. Knowing the songs made them forget the unlikeliness of this event and pulled them into the scene. By using songs so recognizable within the cultural lexicon there's no way you can't feel instantly connected to these characters and their situation. The music is both familiar and completely new with arrangements that give them a subtext you never dreamed of. Sometimes the choices are amusing, but the actors quickly stifle any giggles. Does Lurhmann's fantasy world work? Most of the time. It's totally breathtaking with an energy that just won't quit and will have you tapping your feet, dying to sing along. Kidman and McGregor give stunning performances as the doomed couple with the perfect love. They play it both serious and with a little tongue in cheek, knowing that certain sequences are so over the top that if pushed that iota too far they will dive into the ridiculous. Both of them have surprisingly lovely singing voices, though I don't think they should leave their day jobs. All of the songs are within their vocal ranges and are sweeter because of their immense acting talent.

The film opens in 1900 Paris with Christian (McGregor) recounting his doomed love affair at the Moulin Rouge, Paris's most famous bohemian night club and the center of the cultural revolution. In the beginning, he is a budding writer who is accidently befriended by a group of performers, headed by Henri de Toulouse-Latrec (Leguizamo), a drunken, vertically-challenged man who goes on to become a famous artist. At this point in history, however, he needs a good writer to come up with story and lyrics for his new show called "Spectacular Spectacular." Wanting to impress this motley band of "revolutionaries", Christian comes up with the perfect lyrics to solve their dilemma (one of the film's funniest uses of a beloved tune). Thrilled to find such a wonderful new talent, they drag him to the Moulin Rouge to meet the club's star Satine (Kidman) to impress her with his words so she will convince Zidler (Broadbent), the owner, to produce their show. Christian is overwhelmed with the music, sexuality and energy throbbing from the club floor, but is stunned by Satine's dramatic entrance and performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." During her number Satine mistakes Christian for the Duke (Roxburgh), who is supposed to be seduced into giving his money to the club's new production in return for a night with Satine.

"Never fall in love with a woman who sells herself. It always ends bad."

Once Satine realizes her mistake she tries to put Christian off, but his words capture her heart and almost ruin everything with the Duke. However, quick thinking by all involved fool him into becoming the sponsor of their new production and preparations for "Spectacular Spectacular" are soon underway, with its plot mirroring the real life love triangle. Unknown to Satine, Sidler has promised her exclusively to the Duke who demands her fidelity and the deed to the theater for his cash...just in case she refuses. Satine manages to convince him to wait until the opening night of the show for their magical night together all the while having a passionate love affair with Christian in secret. What none of them knows is that Satine is carrying a dangerous secret which will be more devastating than the Duke's jealous nature. When the Duke discovers the love affair, Satine tries to call on her cold courtesan nature to make him believe it was a minor flirtation, but she can't go through with the seduction. With Christian's life on the line and her own future as a star in jeopardy, she does what she has to in order to save the show and her lover. Love does triumph over evil, but the ending is not necessarily a happy one. It is, however, a tale that will sweep you away with it's magic and beauty.

I happen to be a big fan of Nicole Kidman, thinking her better off to be rid of the untalented dead weight of her now former husband. She is funny, beautiful and tragic as the courtesan who gets a taste of true love, but is not given the time to enjoy it. She sings better then one expects, which is helped greatly by her immense acting talent. She and McGregor have great chemistry together. Of course, if they didn't this film would be dead in the water. The rest of the cast doesn't really have enough screen time to form much of an opinion one way or the other. They don't disappoint which is enough for me. The one character I thought was somewhat miscast was Richard Roxburgh as the jealous Duke. He was just too foppish and ridiculous for me to take as a serious threat to any of the other characters. Kidman could have kicked his ass. In order to take the triangle seriously you had to believe that she was either truly tempted to leave Christian or afraid for her life if she didn't. Neither is true here. If the love portrayed wasn't so palpable and affecting this could have caused an even more damaging hole in the film. As it stands, it's disappointing, but not life-threatening.

As far as the costumes, set design and dancing are concerned, believe me you've seen nothing like it before in your life. They manage to loosely convey a time and place while enjoying seemingly boundless artistic interpretations. If you're not a big MTV watcher the first time they enter the Moulin Rouge will be a bit nauseating for you, though the energy is completely infectious. Thankfully, the editing settles down a bit after that, however, it can hardly be called traditional. Lurhmann brings his unique directing style to the mix, put to such interesting use in ROMEO + JULIET and filling every inch of the screen here. I was a little disappointed that more of the dancing wasn't showcased. With all the cutting you don't really get to watch the beauty of the choreography. Since neither McGregor or Kidman do much dancing I guess Luhrmann figured it wasn't necessary to show more of it. A real shame in my opinion. The songs are the set pieces of the film, but unlike some musicals where characters just suddenly burst out singing, the music flows naturally from the dialogue, providing smooth transitions into the melodies. The music is so wonderful I'm sure you'll just have to own the soundtrack. I do. I'll also bet the only original tune in the film, "Come What May," will be a Best Song Oscar contender, if not the winner.

The plot is not that original, relying heavily on other material, like CAMILLE, but the music, acting and production values are so great you won't really care. That is if you like musicals. For those of you who think you don't, give it a try anyway. You may be surprised by this entrancing love story. Take a breather from the summer gun battles and watch something created with true imagination and great heart that will have you leaving the theater inspired. MOULIN ROUGE is certainly one of the most unique visual and aural treats I have encountered in a long, long time and one I'm looking forward to seeing again. This is what movies are meant to be.

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