Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Director:  Baz Luhrmann
Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent
Plot:  A poet falls for a beautiful courtesan whom a jealous duke covets in this stylish musical, with music drawn from familiar 20th century sources.

Genre:  Drama / Musical / Romance
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).  Won 2 Oscars - Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design.  Nom. for 6 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Lead Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, Best Sound.  
Runtime:  127min
Rating:  PG for sexual content.

The final film of his ‘Red Curtain Trilogy’ which includes his debut, Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! is without question, the most accomplished Baz Luhrmann picture thus far.  

Winning two Oscars for Art Direction and Costume Design, and nominated for six other Oscars including Best Picture, Moulin Rouge! competed at Cannes to rousing critical acclaim.  It redefined the modern musical and was perhaps an influence in Rob Marshall’s Chicago (2002) winning the Best Picture the following year.

Moulin Rouge! stars Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor in leading roles as forbidden lovers.  McGregor plays Christian, a low-key writer of plays who moves to Paris in search for writing opportunities.  He stumbles onto an underground circus of sorts, a strange, erotic arena where eccentric people in weird costumes party and dance away into the night. 

Welcome to the Moulin Rouge, Paris 1890s.  Kidman’s Satine is the star of the underground act, an energetic performer of graceful movements and sensual shuffles.  Unfortunately, as we learn early in the film, Satine is dying from tuberculosis (Christian is unaware of her condition though).

The tragi-romance narrative is rather straightforward and simplistic, and beyond its oddball but typecast characters, it somewhat lacks depth.  Luhrmann knows the shortcomings of such a paper-thin storyline; he attempts to mask them by opting for a wild, fantastical style that has become the film’s most unforgettable hallmark. 

Moulin Rouge! carries us back in time into a world of ethereal beauty and peculiar dreamscape.  We see a singing moon, lead characters performing a duet amongst the clouds and many more scenes that suspend logic and believability.

The editing in Moulin Rouge! is quick and frenetic especially during its ‘musical’ sequences.  It probably has more cuts per second than any other contemporary film in recent memory.  This dazzling, breathless flamboyance is further enhanced through the use of vivid colors. 

It was as if Luhrmann had directed the film with the lush strokes of a paintbrush, and as a result created a beautiful mosaic of eclectic images.  Besides being visually stunning, the film also boasts an amazing soundtrack to boot.

Although set in the late 19th century, the songs sung by the film’s characters are taken from contemporary culture.  They are remixed into an arrangement that is at once fresh and original.  While some songs are ad-libbed, most of them are vocalized by the cast themselves. 

If I may add, Kidman’s gutsy display is the best part of the film and is probably one of her top three performances of her career.  Moulin Rouge! is inventive, innovative, and just simply stupendous filmmaking.  Luhrmann has given us arguably the best musical romance of the decade.


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