“Moulin Rouge”… “Moulin Rouge”… “Moulin Rouge”… I had the distinct pleasure to watch the new film by Baz Luhrmann on Friday night. Why I am I just posting my opinion now? Why didn’t I rush to my computer to start spreading the word? I simply couldn’t even comprehend writing a single word about the film. I had to think about it. Think about it a lot.
For me, a film fanatic, “Moulin Rouge” is a glorious experience. It reaffirms my love for movies. It came just in time. After watching two highly anticipated, but really dreadful films (I’m talking about you ‘The Mummy Returns’ and ‘A Knight’s Tale’), after finding out that my two favorite theaters started charging more for fewer bargain matinees, after learning that online movie tickets now carried a surcharge, after watching crap like ‘Joe Dirt’ and ‘Freddie Got Fingered’ clog the multiplexes, “Moulin Rouge” came just in time. “Moulin Rouge” is a film made by a filmmaker at the height of their talents. It is Luhrmann’s ‘Godfather’.
I frequently talk about the fact that we have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief for any film to work. “Moulin Rouge” requires you to give yourself over completely. If you do, you will be richly rewarded. If not, you will hate the film.
Christian (Ewan McGregor), a naïve British writer, arrives in Paris, 1899. Too idealistic, he wants to live in the shadow of the Moulin Rouge, the famed nightclub, and become a famous writer. Quickly, he meets Henri Toulouse- Lautrec (John Leguizamo). Toulouse- Lautrec is trying to put together a play called ‘Spectacular! Spectacular!’ He has two problems. He needs a writer. He needs a backer. He realizes that Christian is the writer after he provides them with the words to a song they are trying to unravel. Christian belts out ‘The Hills Are Alive… With The Sound of Music’. The backer is Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the owner of the Moulin Rouge. To get to Zidler, they try to impress the famous, Satine (Nicole Kidman).
From the first frames of the film, Luhrmann thrusts us into a world of make believe. His Paris, 1899, is a place of bright lights, bright ruffles and clouds to dance on. It is remarkable how quickly and completely the director accomplishes this. The film is about a play and never leaves the theater setting or sensibility that it depicts. The first few images are really remarkable and set the tone. Collections of moving daguerreotype pop-up storybook images take us back into time and immerse us in the story.
Luhrmann first made his mark with a remarkable Australian import called ‘Strictly Ballroom’. In “Moulin Rouge”, Luhrmann resurrects the live-action studio musical. This film is a love letter to the Astaire- Rodgers classics, the Gene Kelly classics, and the musicals of the 60s. Unlike many musicals, the songs actually help to advance the story. Also, Luhrmann made the choice to use 20th Century music throughout. Yes, it evokes laughter, but it comes at the recognition of the songs and how well they fit into the story at the time. He is also smart to use snippets of songs, to make his point, and then move on. Occasionally, he uses the entire song, creating show-stopping numbers that I will remember for a long time. I am still constantly thinking about Zidler and the Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh) singing ‘Like A Virgin’ and the use of ‘Roxanne’ at the beginning of the third act. How often can you say that you think about particular pieces of a film for days afterward?
Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are both surprising. McGregor is a very good singer. Both actors did their own singing, but McGregor is the real standout of the tow. His voice has a lot of range and uses his songs to build a real chemistry with Kidman. I can honestly say that I have found Kidman to be a very overrated actress. In “Moulin Rouge”, she is terrific. Funny, sexy, dramatic, it works. The story is an old one, done hundreds of times, but these performers make the story fresh by providing a much needed chemistry. Christian seduces Satine by singing her a love song, a collection of love song titles, in one of the most erotic sequences I have ever seen.
Jim Broadbent is simply terrific. His performance made me think of Joel Grey’s in ‘Cabaret’. This is only because their characters serve the same function in the nightclub setting. Zidler is the owner of the Moulin Rouge, but also a ham and therefore the Master of Ceremonies and frequent star. His character is very complex and he makes it thrilling to watch Zidler switch back and forth, using knowledge as a weapon.
My only complaint about the film? John Leguizamo’s Toulouse- Lautrec becomes a member of the buffoon Greek Chorus meant to provide comic relief. His part is not integrated very well and he is never shown painting. Instead, he stumbles around trying to put on a play? He also talks with a very strange accent.
“Moulin Rouge” is an outstanding film, filled with an exhausting energy. The camera never stops moving, careening over frilly, brightly ruffled costumes and intricately designed sets and stages.
It is also the type of film that must be viewed of the big screen. There is so much texture, so much color, no television can do it justice.
An amazing film.