Moulin Rouge!

Review No. 387


The Bottom Line: A highly intoxicating, strenuous musical.

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by: Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
Satine: Nicole Kidman
Christian: Ewan McGregor
Also Starring: Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo, Richard Roxburgh

Distributed by 20th Century Fox on June 1, 2001. Produced in English by the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. Runs 127 minutes. Rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sexual content.

Moulin Rouge! was watched on January 11, 2013.

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” –Christian (Ewan McGregor)

Baz Luhrmann’s intentions are merely what set him apart from any other filmmaker. The vast majority of dramatic celluloid means to represent life in a meaningful way–subtle, thought-provoking, and atmospheric. Luhrmann is doing little more than filming the theater. The idea of flashy razzle-dazzle is an even proposition, but more often than not, it’s difficult to watch. Be it due to dragging length (Australia), or due to overwhelming asininity (Romeo + Juliet).

Much of the appreciation he garners, I assume, draws back to Moulin Rouge!. It’s a beautiful masterpiece that was tough to put in the hands of Luhrmann, but could hardly work for any other director. Everything about it vociferates the flamboyant, overpowering, and uninhibited color we weren’t exactly drawn to in other works.

The film is strange. It’s funny. It’s pretty and witty and bright. It’s a grand, big-scale epic that aims high and reaches immeasurably higher.

Moulin Rouge! unfolds in 1899 Paris. It’s established from the very beginning that everything about it is meant to assess massive anachronisms. This is what some may know as a “Jukebox musical.” Some opening numbers include “The Sound of Music” from the mid-20th century musical of the same name; 1970s’ hit “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle; and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by the early ’90s grunge band Nirvana.

Perhaps this is to illustrate that this could take place at any given moment. The idea of a nightclub, from which the film takes its title, is about as ambiguous as you can get for an artistic rendition, at which Luhrmann succeeds almost mind-blowingly.

Our story revolves around a rather introverted writer (Ewan McGregor) who poses as the Duke in order to find love. He finds himself eyeing over a gorgeous dancing queen and performing diva (Nicole Kidman), and then in her bed. Once she discovers that he, in fact, is not the Duke, he feels determined to keep the love affair going.

Moulin Rouge! is a vivacious acting factory. Nicole Kidman is unforgettable as Satine, the leading lady. Mind you, this is a meta musical–or a musical about the foundation of a musical–therefore, she’s essentially the star of two shows, not one, and she’s anything but a cliché in either one. The conclusion is what defines Kidman’s character more than anything else, bringing the idea of the story itself into a mighty coalescence with the subplot.

This tour de force only grows with the support (not that any was needed) of McGregor. We’re not exactly used to him as an outgoing, vicarious personality, but it feels like watching something completely new when he’s the polar opposite.

Cinematography is a broad staple in the gradually expanding Baz Luhrmann canon. Moulin Rouge! presents all that jazz at the top of its own game. There is no slow motion. Anything to avoid potential cheese simply is not present.

Instead, Luhrmann’s commands ensue a vastly original technique, in which footage often seems to be at a cut rate of 12 frames per second. It enhances the romantic gall of the entire production. The “curtain call” title effects are also a marvelous twist on convention. From then on, the film is off to the races, sometimes like chatterbox lightning, others like a heartbreaking melodrama.

Baz Luhrmann has never once stuck to the idea that “pacing is key” in a screenplay. In most cases, this is true in order to stay away from a bored audience, but Luhrmann’s impression is fantastic, allowing us to feel as if we live inside the two-hour presentation. You’re never asked to leave, but the film always encourages being played again.



7 thoughts on “Moulin Rouge!

    • I’d agree that it’s one of the greatest musicals ever, but when you suggest it’s THE greatest, I must assume that you mean “musicals first presented on film.” Have you seen The Phantom of the Opera? Les Misérables? Evita? Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat? Nine? Chicago? Those all beat out Moulin Rouge! easily, by a long shot.

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