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:: Moulin Rouge

One thinks back to the glory days of the old MGM musical. All the splendour, colour, art, and all the entertainment a movie watcher could want. We thought that those days were forever dead. But now we have a new form of musical. With a new generation of moviegoers comes a different twist. Baz Luhrmann, who created a reinventing of Shakespeare with his “Romeo And Juliet” of five years ago, leaps into the musical breach with “Moulin Rouge”. He directed, co-wrote and co-produced this tragic, melodramatic musical.

The early moments of the film soon indicate Luhrmann’s boldness. With narration by Ewan McGregor as Christian, a writer, the scene is set in Paris 1899. Satine (Nicole Kidman) is a courtesan who works as a can-can dancer at the Moulin Rouge nightclub. In the club, Kidman attempts to evoke the charisma of Marilyn Monroe as she swings above the crowd to “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”, while Christian acts like he’s trying to be a Gene Kelly. He is a talented poet and falls into the company of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (John Leguizamo) and his group of Bohemians. There is innocence to it as Christian indicates his love for Satine. He believes in love, freedom and beauty. It is later revealed that Satine is dying of tuberculosis and is forced to sell her love to the highest bidder, in this case the Duke of Worcester (Richard Roxburgh). The Duke has entered into an agreement with the impresario Zidler (Jim Broadbent) to underwrite a play, “Spectacular Spectacular”, written by Christian, in which Satine stars, provided that he has exclusive access to her favours, sexual or otherwise. Christian will try to remain as close as possible to the girl of his dreams, and there are several tender moments. In one instance, we see them perform a “love duet” in which all the dialogue and singing consists of phrases of popular love songs, ranging from “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles to “In The Name Of Love” by U2. Satine is at odds when mistaking the Duke for Christian, thereby declaring a love for Christian. What should this fragile girl do, however? She must reconcile between fame, poverty, diamonds, romance and her health.

What is most compelling about “Moulin Rouge” is not the cliched storyline, but the big production design that combines fantastic sets with a digital style, leaving you mightily impressed. The song and dance routines combine great pop songs of the past, including T-Rex’s “Children of the Revolution”, Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” (done in a humorous, crowd-pleasing manner0 and “Roxanne” by The Police. The mish-mashing of the tunes and lyrics are unusual but serve to lighten the atmosphere. In fact, the songs help integrate the story well in supporting each other.

Baz Luhrmann will never be guilty of visual understatement. He and his wife, production and costume designer, Catherine Martin provided a spectacular viewing feast. They have created a fantasy Paris where everything looks gorgeous – just right for the turn of the century home of the can-can. Luhrmann celebrates with fondness the impoverished bohemian artists of all qualities, so familiar from such cultural greats as Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme”.

The cast dazzle in the spotlight. Kidman shines through as a talented performer and, with McGregor acquit themselves adequately in the singing stakes. They show an unbridled commitment to fervent acting. Both are effervescent and appealing in their roles. Broadbent is exceptional as the blustery Zidler, bringing the right edge to his musical spots. Australian audiences will delight in catching a glimpse of Kylie Minogue as the Green Fairy. To see her early in the film singing The Sound Of Music was a surprise. She was a last minute inclusion in the cast. Singers Christine Anu and Natalie Mendoza also scored parts as dancers. Well-known Melbourne music arranger Josh Abrahams did a fine job as the music programmer and editor.

“Moulin Rouge” is a film of great energy and wit, and should rapture audiences around the world. It is told in an Australian way and displays a daring and charming passion. Baz Luhrmann deserves credit, if only for experimenting in a genre that many others have left for dead. See this film and you’ll always remember it.

Screening on general release including the Rivoli Cinemas, George Cinemas, Classic Cinemas, and Cinema Nova