Moulin Rouge!

| June 1, 2001

Think Vegas on acid. Times that by one hundred. Let your mind run wild with naughty fantasies. Don’t hold back. Nothing is forbidden. Are you are ready for Moulin Rouge? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
This film is not for everyone. Those who squash their dreams, smother their desires, and are left leading ordinary lives without the fire or passion for another person, a piece of art, or a fundamental belief – those are the ones who will not appreciate Moulin Rouge. But for those of you who believe in “truth, freedom, beauty, and above all love,” be prepared for a roller coaster ride of pure sensory delight
The concept is not new – a tragic love story, woven around a piece of history, and told in contemporary fashion. Aussie director Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom) is no stranger to this. He gave it a go in Romeo + Juliet, an attempt that pales in comparison to Moulin Rouge. Here we have the story of Satine (Nicole Kidman) a beautiful courtesan and star of the Moulin Rouge, a club that caters to the whimsies of men. Enter Christian (Ewan McGregor) a penniless writer with a brilliant mind and pen who comes to Montmartre (a city of ill repute outside of Paris) to develop and hone his craft. He encounters a bohemian Mecca – a place where poets, painters, pimps and prostitutes, writers, actors, and dreamers gather and fight the good ol’ proverbial fight. What many of them don’t realize is that this battle is often with their own selves. Alcoholism is high, syphilis runs rampant, and greed often clouds otherwise noble ideals.
Toulouse Lautrec (John Leguizamo), the leader of an acting troupe and a man who is well versed in the pleasures one can obtain in Montmartre, befriends Christian. Toulouse discovers Christian’s talent and urges him to write while keeping in mind the basic tenets of their world: freedom, truth, beauty, and above all love. However, Christian has never been in love. The solution? A little absinthe (a popular drink in 1899 that allegedly produced hallucinations) and a night at the Moulin Rouge.
Luhrmann is a creative director; color plays an important role in this film. Up until Christian enters the Moulin Rouge, we are greeted with muted grays and greens, blemished whites, and powdery blacks. The transition into the hottest club in France is striking – magentas, crimsons, yellows, reds, and violets explode from the screen. The current hit Lady Marmalade blasts through the doors as women in flamboyant dresses (thanks to fabulous costuming by Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie) take to the floor doing the Can-Can, a popular dance of the era composed of aggressive, borderline violent moves and high-flying kicks. These women continue to rock to Fatboy Slim’s “Because You Can Can-Can.”
Men of all shapes and sizes dressed in tuxedos and intoxicated by alcohol, women, or both take to the floor with wild abandonment. Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the owner of the club, licks his lips knowing the best is yet to come – his spectacular diamond, Satine (Nicole Kidman).
There is more to this ultra popular courtesan than meets the eye. Satine has her own dream of becoming a “real” actress. Zidler acknowledges that her dream may come true on this night. There is a wealthy Duke in the audience willing to “fund” a show at the Moulin Rouge. Zidler has arranged a meeting between Satine and the Duke to go over the, uh, details. Meanwhile, Toulouse tells Christian he has arranged a meeting with Satine so that Christian can present to her his idea for a show. Hmmm. Sounds like Satine needs to be in two places at once. You can just imagine the pandemonium that ensues.
The story is a predictable one. However, it’s the telling of the tale that’s the real charmer here and this is where the fun really occurs. The film deviates from being just that, a film, and embarks on a Broadway musical-like mission complete with songs we all know and love. The cast does all their own singing. McGregor’s rendition of an Elton John classic is quirky, funny, and not bad vocally. You’ll have fun anticipating the songs that come next. There’s a little bit of everything from Madonna to Sting and of course a love theme “Come What May” sung by Kidman and McGregor.
Moulin Rouge. Is it outrageous? Yes. Over-the-top? Definitely. However, this is not a problem. Why? Because the predictable story is believable. The chemistry between Kidman and McGregor is evident from the moment they meet. How can they fall in love so fast? They’re both artists at heart, kindred spirits. Think Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barret Browning. Think Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Think Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman – er, well, you get the idea.
Of course, our star-crossed lovers are doomed. Our villain is two-fold. First, the Duke, a sniveling, wretched little man played to perfection by Richard Roxburgh (Mission: Impossible 2) and second, Satine’s fragile health. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Despite all this, we are reminded from Zidler that no matter what, “the show must go on.” Herein lies the heart of the tale – to love like you’ve never loved before, even if it means losing in the end, and then learning how to go on. So often it is through love’s suffering that masterpieces are born – whether it be music, painting, or writing. This is what Christian learns and thus the film transcends the tragic love story theme.
Ewan McGregor is the one to watch. He has proven his versatility in artsy films like Emma, Brassed Off, and Little Voice. The Star Wars prequel introduced him to an audience that might not have otherwise known who he was. Moulin Rouge solidifies what we already know – McGregor is a risk-taker, can hold his own with big guns like Kidman, and can carry a film as a leading man.
Nicole Kidman made sparks fly in To Die For – a critically acclaimed performance that earned her a Golden Globe. Since then she has shown she is her own woman. Whether it’s bearing it all on stage or receiving flak for what many considered a disappointing Eyes Wide Shut, Kidman offers no apologies. Although she never did hang from her husband’s coattails, there’s no doubt now that Kidman is a strong, independent actor. Her performances just keep getting better and better.
The supporting cast in Moulin Rouge deserves a lot of credit. John Leguizamo’s (Summer Of Sam, Romeo + Juliet) portrayal of the real-life roguish Toulouse is superb. Jim Broadbent (most recently as Bridget’s dad in Bridget Jones’s Diary) is wonderful as the one-track minded Zidler. The prostitutes, dancers, and actors are too numerous to mention by name, yet invaluable to the film overall.
Moulin Rouge is sensory stimulation at its best. Don’t be surprised if your bottom starts bopping along to the music and you find yourself cheering throughout the film. It may be the wildest ride you take this summer. And you won’t even have to think about the price of gas.

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