There has been a hype preceding Baz Luhrmann's latest opus that has helped to infuse interest in the budding Australian film industry. Fox Studios, Sydney has bellied up to the bar in a big way to bring us the director's own vision of turn-of-the-century Parisian nightlife in "Moulin Rouge."
Laura's Review: B
In 1899, the summer of love, impoverished British writer Christian (Ewan McGregor, "Star Wars: Episode I - the Phantom Menace") arrives in Paris to find inspiration in Montmarte's bohemian artistic neighborhood. When a narcoleptic Argentinean (Jacek Koman) and a midget dressed as a nun (John Leguizamo as Henri de Toulouse Lautrec) fall through his ceiling, Christian's cast in their alpine play, "Spectacular, Spectacular." He breaks their collective writers' block by belting out "The hills are alive!," is declared the play's new author and trundled off to meet Zidler (Jim
Broadbent, "Topsy Turvy"), the owner of their venue, the "Moulin Rouge."
Lautrec promises Christian that he'll meet with the play's star, Satine (Nicole Kidman) alone, just as Zidler is promising the same to the Duke (Richard Roxburgh, "Mission: Impossible II"), a potential backer. Satine, Moulin Rouge's star and courtesan, gets mixed signals and sets to seducing Christian, believing he's the wealthy Duke.
The story of "Moulin Rouge" (written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet") mirrors Dumas' "Camille," where another consumptive courtesan captures the heart of an idealistic young man, but director Luhrmann uses the age old tale as a springboard to dazzle his audience with lavishly colorful visuals, dizzily photographed, alarmingly edited and
musically propelled via snippets of countless pop tunes.
Our initial introduction to the Moulin Rouge is through the eyes of Christian after imbibing in absinthe (guided by Australian songstress Kylie Minogue as the green fairy), the legendary hallucinogenic green liqueur. The skirts of can-can dancers whoosh by with a kaleidoscopic effect as the performers sing the most unlikely medley of "Voulez Vous Couchez Avec Moi?" and
"Smells Like Teen Spirit." A wild assortment of freaks and fashionistas make the patrons of the Moulin Rouge the Studio 54'ers of their day. Then Satine makes her entrance, dangling from above on a swing, brilliant red hair and lips spotlighted against chalk white skin. Satine's introductory medley, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend/"Material Girl," prove that Kidman can carry a tune,
but are an uninspired choice.
Luhrmann then gives us a dose of the ludicrous as Satine writhes around her opulent Indian elephant abode as Christian recites the 'poetry' of Elton John's "Your Song." The real Duke's arrival calls for quick thinking on Satine's part and aided by Christian's fellow playmates she outlines the play's plot on the spot. This sequence plays as if the Marx Brothers collided with the Three Stooges.
After this, Luhrmann eases up on the hyperkinetic editting and "Moulin Rouge" settles in with its first truly showstopping number in which Zidler performs "Like a Virgin" for the Duke accompanied by a chorus of dancing waiters. Other highlights include the narcoleptic Argentinian's advise to Christian about getting involved with courtesans by way of a tango number
set to "Roxanne," and the climax of the play within a play.
Luhrman has created a great piece of eye candy, from his opening black and white zoom through the streets of Paris leading to the Moulin Rouge (looking like "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" crossed with "The City of Lost Children") to the multi-level Indian set stages of a Bollywood Ziegfeld. His "Romeo + Juliet" team of cinematographer Donald McAlpine, editor Jill Bilcock, and production designer/costume designer Catherine Martin are joined by art director Ann-Marie Beauchamp and Set Decorator Brigitte Broch ("Chronos," "Amores Perros").
Yet all the film's spectacular excesses don't add up to a completely satisfying experience, careening as it does from slapstick to melodrama. Kidman looks ravishing, but her plight never pulls on the heartstrings. McGregor fares better, largely due to the real emotion he delivers with his full bodied singing voice. Broadbent's Zidler is a pragmatic, rather than evil, version of Joel Grey's "Cabaret" emcee and he gives the film's most interesting performance (when Luhrmann lets us see it), yet his presence distractingly recalls the theatrical "Topsy Turvy." Leguizamo is little more than a tearful clown - Toulouse who? Roxburgh's Duke is as two dimensionally villainous as the plot demands.
"Moulin Rouge" is itself like a courtesan, a lavishly outfitted, desirable beauty who excels at artifice.
Robin's Review: B
"Moulin Rouge" is a jam-packed musical extravaganza utilizing brilliantly conceived, complexly produced sets providing the viewer with a visual cornucopia of images. There is so much going on during the high-octane musical numbers, I could only think of Peter Greenaway's stunning sets in
"Prospero's Books" by way of comparison. The numerous, imaginative dance routines are done with the director's patented hyper-kinetic editing, giving the film the feel of Gilbert and Sullivan on acid.
Luhrmann's frenzied form of filmmaking was evident in his stylish and fun "Strictly Ballroom." He took it a step further (and faltered horribly) with his annoying "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" that must have had the Bard rolling in his grave. The helmer continues to follow his own vision in his best work to date. Not that "Moulin Rouge" is a great film, mind you. The are cracks in the kitsch that keeps this extravagant musical from greatness.
The story, by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, covers no new ground with poor, struggling poet, Christian (Ewan MacGregor), attracted to the big city lights of circa-1900 gay Paris where the diminutive artiste, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), and his cronies befriend him. The gang soon introduces the naive Christian to the pleasures and debauchery of the infamous Moulin Rouge, a notorious nightclub owned by a surrealistic emcee, Zidler (Jim Broadbent). There the gullible budding poet is introduced to the charms of the beautiful star of the show, Satine (Nicole Kidman), the most famous courtesan in Paris.
Zidler wants to make the change from nightclub shill to legitimate theater owner and uses Satine to lure the wealthy Duke of Worcester (Richard Roxburgh) to invest in his venture. The selfish, arrogant aristocrat lusts after the beautiful chanteuse and agrees to pay for the business transition
- if he gets Satine in the bargain. The deluded Zidler and ambitious Satine, who hungers to be a legit actress and no longer a highly paid whore, agree, but overlook one major snag. Christian falls for Satine and vice versa. Oh, yeah. Satine suffers from consumption. You take it from there, keeping in mind this is a romantic tragedy.
Luhrmann almost overwhelms you with his frenetic dance numbers that utilize a plethora of pop music songs delivered in operatic-style. The list is long and starts with "The Sound of Music" begun, first, as narrative but soon breaking into song as Christian conceives the heart of the musical play that will launch the new Moulin Rouge. This is where the flick is both at its best and its worst (though "worst" is a bit harsh).
There is a Bob Fosse influence to Luhrmann's proceedings as he combines 1900 Can Can burlesque with the modern musical poetry of "Roxanne," "Like a Virgin" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Elton John's "Your Song" is the flagship tune that epitomizes the romance between Christian and Satine. "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," a string of "love" songs (that's
song's with "love" in the title, Alex) - "In the Name of Love," "Silly Love Songs," "All You Need Is Love" - "Up Where We Belong" (from "An Officer and a Gentleman) and David Bowie's "Heroes" all get attention to varying degrees. The all male "Like a Virgin," led by Broadbent, is good fun.
The myriad of musical numbers and references are, as I said, overwhelming with the cleverness and single-minded wit of its auteur. For Luhrmann, more is better as he batters you with a visual bombardment that weaves the varied of songs into the fabric of the film.
There are actors up there on the screen and credit must be given to Kidman and MacGregor for terrific musical performances. Each did their own singing and both are first-rate, especially MacGregor, whose pipes could earn him a living as a crooner. Jim Broadbent gives a wild and colorful perf as Zidler, while Richard Roxburgh puts a Simon Legree spin on his sinister and
despicable Duke. The rest of the cast provides a "Cabaret" level of choreographic splendor to the striking dance numbers.
More is not always better and, sometimes, it is best to give the audience a little time to chew on things a bit. The frenetic pace of "Moulin Rouge" is a blessing and a bane, but it is certainly the vision of its maker