(Opening the 2001 Cannes Film Festival & Played in Competition for the Palme D’or)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann and written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, Moulin Rouge! is the story of a English writer who travels to 1899 Paris where he becomes part of the Bohemian culture where falls for a sickly courtesan and contend with a greedy duke. The film is a lavish musical set at a period where things are changing as it features music from the late 20th Century. Starring Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Richard Roxburgh, Jacek Koman, Caroline O’Connor, and Jim Broadbent. Moulin Rouge! is a spectacular and extremely-entertaining film from Baz Luhrmann.
Arriving from England to Bohemian Paris is a young aspiring writer named Christian (Ewan McGregor) as he meets a group of performers led by the midget Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo). After creating some inspiring contributions to their play entitled Spectacular Spectacular, Christian joins Toulouse, the narcoleptic Argentine (Jacek Koman), and the musical composer Nini Legs-in-the-Air (Caroline O’Connor), and the bearded musician Satie (Matthew Whittet) to the Moulin Rouge to see its attraction in the beautiful courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman). Also there is the Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh) whom the owner of the Moulin Rouge in Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent) hopes to invest money in a future production. When Zidler performs with Satine, he tells her that the Duke wants to meet her as she mistakes Christian as the Duke where things become confusing when the Duke arrives where Christian, Zidler, Satine, and the gang reveal that they’re working on a play that would be exciting.
The Duke agrees to fund the play called Spectacular Spectacular to the delight of Satine, Christian, Zidler, and the troupe but a private meeting with the Duke has Zidler uneasy about the deal he’s making as the Duke wants Satine for himself. Yet, Satine and Christian start to fall in love during the making of the play as they try to avoid the Duke and his henchman Warner (Linal Haft) while Zidler becomes worried as he discovers a secret about Satine that would destroy everything. When a rough version of the play is presented in full for the Duke, he is unhappy about the ending forcing Zidler to try and deal with him where he asks Satine to deal with the Duke for the sake of the play. Satine tries to get the Duke to reason with her only to feel compromised by her love for Christian.
When Zidler tells her about the secret that only he and her assistant (Lara Mulcahy) know, Satine is forced to give in and have Christian be forced out. Yet, it would take the ideas of truth, beauty, freedom, and love for Christian to try and win Satine at the night of the play.
The film is about a young aspiring writer telling the story about how he fell for a courtesan during Bohemian Paris at the Moulin Rouge where he had to contend with a greedy duke for her love. Meanwhile, he tries to create a play with a group of artists that he hopes would win her love as the play about a penniless sitar player who tries to deal with a maharajah for a woman’s life that would mirror his own conflict with the Duke. It’s a story that is quite simple as it focuses on the ideas that the Bohemians wanted to state but it’s told from a young man who wanted to be part of that world only to tell what happened the year before when that world was thriving.
Characters like Christian and Satine are people who want to be great though Satine hopes to achieve greatness outside of Moulin Rouge. Together, they become lovers who find something together away from their world of art while they both had to deal with a greedy, demanding Duke who is on the verge of becoming a loose cannon. It’s up to the Moulin Rouge’s owner to try and reason with the Duke or else he loses everything that he’s worked so hard for only to realize he’s about to lose more than his beloved palace of entertainment. Screenwriters Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce definitely succeed in finding motivations for these key characters while adding some nice moments for some smaller characters to stand out. While they’re aware that the story is a simple one, it’s still engaging for the fact that it is a love story with charm and adventure.
Luhrmann’s direction is definitely style over substance but it manages to works because it knows that it’s all about style rather than substance. From the fast-paced, jerky tracking shots to unveil Paris early in the film to the chaos that is the Moulin Rouge with its can-can dances. Luhrmann creates a world that is very lively and over-the-top while doing whatever he can to capture the energy of these dances. Since the film is a musical with these amazing musical numbers, Luhrmann knows how to slow things down for the ballads but also play to the energy of the upbeat songs. Notably the latter as it refuses to take itself so seriously by just being silly in a fun way. It allows the audience to take part in these musical numbers including the climatic play that is inspired by Bollywood.
While there is a lot of craziness in these dazzling dance sequence and upbeat musical numbers, Luhrmann does manage to focus on the film’s story by creating a lot of entrancing close-up on the characters and give reason for the music to help tell the story. Even in the love ballads where Luhrmann has the camera fixated on both Christian and Satine where they would profess their love for each other. The overall result is a musical that lives up to the namesake of its fictional play’s title and more that can only be masterminded by someone who is unapologetic in his emphasis on style like Baz Luhrmann.
Cinematographer Donald McAlpine does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography where it plays into Luhrmann‘s emphasis on style by utilizing blue lights to convey moods as well as an array of colors to help create something that is exciting and vibrant for its interior and exterior settings. Editor Jill Bilcock creates dazzling work with the film‘s hyper-stylized editing with the use of jump-cuts, fast-cuts, and dissolves to play around with the film‘s musical numbers and craziness while knowing when to slow things down for the ballads in the film. The work of production/costume designer Catherine Martin is truly amazing for the way she creates the extravagant sets such as the Moulin Rouge stage and the turn-of-the-century costumes worn by the characters With the help of set decorator Brigitte Broch, art director Ian Gracie, and co-costume designer Angus Strathie, Martin’s work is definitely the film’s technical highlight.
Hair/makeup designers Maurizio Silvi and Aldo Signoretti do wonderful work with the look for many of the film‘s characters such as Zipler with his beard and hair along with the look for several other small characters in the film. Visual effects supervisor Chris Godfrey does brilliant work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects for the film‘s exterior settings of Paris including the moon that features the voice of Placido Domingo. Sound recorders Craig Heath, Robert Renga, and Guntis Sics do terrific work with the sound work to capture the chaotic atmosphere of the Moulin Rouge as well as the smaller sounds in the film‘s climatic play scene. Choreographer John O’Connell does fantastic work with the dance choreography to play out the extravagance of the dance numbers where things are chaotic but also fun to watch.
Another major highlight of the film is music by Craig Armstrong that is filled with lush orchestral flourishes to play out some of the drama and adventure aspects of the film. Music director Marius de Vries and supervisor Anton Monsted create a truly phenomenal mix of music that plays to the craziness of the dance sequences as well as the splendor of the love ballads. Fusing a cover of LaBelle’s Lady Marmalade with Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit plus elements of songs like T. Rex’s Children of the Revolution and Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend with Madonna’s Material Girl are some of the film’s highlights. Yet, it’s the love medley that features many classic love songs by Elton John, the Beatles, Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, and many others are the real highlights. The overall soundtrack is truly one of the best in the world of film.
The casting by Ronna Kress is great for the ensemble that is created as it features cameo appearances from Strictly Ballroom star Tara Morice as a prostitute early in the film, David Wenham as the androgynous writer Audrey, and Australian pop legend Kylie Minogue as the Green Fairy. Other notable small roles include Peter Whitford as the stage manager, Linal Haft as the Duke’s henchman Warner, Kiruna Stamell as the dancer La Petite Princess, Kerry Walker as the dancer Marie, Matthew Whittet as the musical troupe member Satie, Deobia Oparei as stage actor Le Chocolat, Lara Mulcahy as Satine’s aide, and Caroline O’Connor as the eccentric composer Nini Legs-in-the-Air. Jacek Koman is excellent as the narcoleptic Argentine who provides a lot of humor to his kooky character while John Leguizamo is fun as the very outrageous Toulouse who pushes Christian to follow his dreams.
Richard Roxburgh is terrific as the twitchy yet devious antagonist Duke of Monroth whose obsession with Satine leads him to try and take control of the play and wants Satine for his own selfish reasons. The film’s best supporting performance is Jim Broadbent as Harold Zidler in the way he presents himself as this boisterous and larger-than-life man who owns and runs the Moulin Rouge who tries to win over the Duke while being a more serious man when he has to deal with the secret about Satine. Ewan McGregor is incredible as the idealistic Christian who falls for Satine as he wants to fit in with this new world while McGregor truly displays his amazing talents as a vocalist where he and Nicole Kidman truly have great chemistry as vocalists and as actors.
The film’s best performance easily goes to Nicole Kidman who really gives a performance that is definitely filled with star power and more. Proving to be a very capable vocalist who can use her charm and wit to win over a large crowd while also being very funny in some of the film’s whimsical scenes. It’s also a performance where Kidman can bring torment to her character torn by her love for this young writer but also a secret that would allow her to give a grand performance in the film’s climatic play. It’s truly among one of Kidman’s great performances of her career.
Moulin Rouge! is a magnificent film from Baz Luhrmann that features outstanding performances from Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, and Jim Broadbent. The film is definitely Luhrmann’s best film to emphasize his unique approach to style over substance that is truly engaging to watch. It’s also a film that really brings the musical back to life without taking itself too seriously and just do what it needs to do which is to entertain. In the end, Moulin Rouge! is a rip-roaring and exciting film from Baz Luhrmann.
Baz Luhrmann Films: Strictly Ballroom - William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet - Australia - The Great Gatsby (2013 film) - The Auteurs #23: Baz Luhrmann
© thevoid99 2012