"The best thing in the world is to love and to be loved in return."
There is love all around the new film "Moulin Rouge" (IMDb listing), from the music to the costumes, the cinematography to the acting. There is an unmistakable amount of affection for the material being presented. Directed by Cecil B DeMille/William Castle incarnate Baz Luhrmann, the new musical Moulin Rouge shares the audacity and pure vision of Luhrmann's previous masterpiece "Romeo + Juliet." Moulin Rouge is a breathtaking journey through a fabricated era of song and dance, and a film if you should decide to partake of it that remains unforgettable long after the curtains close.
Christian (Ewen McGregor) is a destitute writer looking for a muse in the summer of 1899. Deciding to spend some time in Paris, Christian meets Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (John Leguizamo) and his band of poor playwrights. The suggestions that Christian makes to the "Spectacular Spectacle" musical the group is planning inspires them to retrieve funding from the evil Duke Of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh, "Mission: Impossible 2"). The only way into the pocketbook of the Duke is to get the attention of his object of desire Satine (Nicole Kidman), the most coveted courtesan at the local club, the Moulin Rouge. Once the Duke commits to funding the musical, Christian finds himself in love with Satine and attempts to woo her away from the Duke's fortunes. Unfortunately, Satine is losing the battle with lung disease, and for the first time in her life finds herself falling in love with a man who has no money, no status, and total devotion to her, regardless of her lifestyle.
Whether it's his self-destructive attitude or just sheer contempt for the uninitiated, Luhrmann repeats his trademark blitzkrieg opening sequence attack that launched "Romeo + Juliet." The visuals come fast and furious, the music blares, and the storyline is dropped in like an assault team. We are off and running in the world of the Moulin Rouge with no apologies. It is quite jarring to the senses, yet perfectly encapsulates the energy and passion now expected of Luhrmann. Though in the end there is only one real story arc seen to completion, this chaotic commencement featuring dozens of subplots that act as kind of a buffer against those more close-minded to the ideas and visuals about to be presented in the film. Luhrmann is not known to play it safe, and if you can survive the opening 15 minutes, then you will be rewarded with a lavishly produced film.
Promoted as a high-spirited romp through the seedy Parisian nightclub scene, "Moulin Rouge" surprised me with its somber tone once the characters stop singing. The film is no romp in the park, electing to deal with themes of trust, death, and the alluring safety of abundance. While I'm thrilled that the film has more on its mind then recycling old Elton John songs, the drama does make the film feel a bit tedious at times. It halts the flow of the music and ends the surge of the theatrics rather abruptly.
And who wants the music to be stopped? "Moulin Rouge" features a kaleidoscope of music performed by the actors from artists such as David Bowie, Nirvana (who knew that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" could be such a dancehall showstopper?), Queen, The Police, and T-Rex. And those artists are only the tip of the mountain of songs that Luhrmann uses in "Moulin Rouge." Though many numbers are used for only a line or two, the revisionist execution of a period piece that uses modern music creates a hypnotic effect on the audience and develops a crucial intimacy that new songs couldn't do. Interpreted through Nicole Kidman and Ewen McGregor, the two actors make each song their own with remarkably lovely voices. A mid-movie proclamation of affection through songs with "love" in the title is the highlight of the film, with Kidman and McGregor blissfully reaching back into the vault of pop music to one-up each other through long forgotten songs.
Production designer Catherine Martin and cinematographer Donald McAlpine transcend themselves with their work on "Moulin Rouge." The film is striking to behold, with miles of deep reds and glimmering golds, "Moulin Rouge" is constructed for optimal extravagance. The lush visuals go a long way to help swallow the overblown theatrics that Luhrmann pulls off with shocking ease. "Moulin Rouge" is spectacle in the best sense of the word.
Filmfodder Grade: B+