June 1, 2001
Seductively inventive, a review of Moulin Rouge - THE COMMENTARY
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER -- Cabaret won eight Academy Awards in 1972, the year the mob movie to end all mob movies The Godfather was in contention. It was the real, last movie musical Hollywood ever produced, unless you count Madonna’s Evita of about four years ago. Both were the breed of movie musicals that were adapted for celluloid from the Broadway stage.
Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge isn’t of that ilk, but to classify it would probably render it in the ‘musical’ genre of film. It isn’t a peppy or orthodox ‘book’ musical like that of The Sound of Music or Oklahoma!. Some will call it a musical. It probably is, but it doesn’t boast a book or conventional score like that of The Sound or Music or Oklahoma!. For that, it is brave. It does however boast tunes that most will recognise and perhaps hum along with. Those at the advance screening the other night were heard singing along at times.
Baz Luhrmann has always taken near impossible concepts and moulded equally inventive films. Strictly Ballroom was one, as was his version of Romeo and Juliet. The Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes version brought iambic pentameter into the impossible world of automatic weapons and mass media. The term post-modern has been batted about and it’s quite apt. Moulin Rouge doesn’t reinvent the musical format so much as it makes us look for a new genre to invent just for Luhrmann’s films.
Moulin Rouge begins with bold and furious colour. It’s cinematography is mixed rather effortlessly with special effects making for a brash opening to an interesting ride. Taking a story set in the late nineteenth century and mixing it up with twentieth century music for the twenty-first is brave and imaginative. There’s a terrific sense of opulence in every image seen through the eye of Luhrmann, who doesn’t necessarily make a starring vehicle for Kidman, rather a film that makes no room for indifference. The viewer will either hate it or not.
The technology employed by Luhrmann is obvious, but it adds to the surrealism that is the story of Satine (Kidman) a temptress who falls in love with the bohemian scribe, Christian (Macgregor). It’s a dangerous seduction, with the resulting enamour producing some admirable singing from both. The songs are questionable (“Like A Virgin”, “I Will Always Love You”, “The Sound of Music” and “Lady Marmalade”) in the context of nineteenth century Paris, but that’s the miracle of Luhrmann. The songs used in the film are an unconventional potpourri of strain, yet are a character unto themselves. They make the viewer imagine the amazing reality that is the setting -- a bohemian Europe that stifled reality and soaked up creativity at every glance.
‘Moulin Rouge’ translated is, red windmill. That so said windmill stands in front -- boldly -- in front of a seedy, bohemian part of Paris, where truth and love reign supreme. Artisans are glorified, in an atmosphere where Nicole Kidman can be caught every night ‘swinging’ for gentlemen donning top hats, white ties and tails. She sings “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” with a sexiness that turns the hokey show tune into an anthem for courtesans everywhere.
Jim Broadbent, who wowed critics in Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, is Zigler, the showman running the Moulin Rouge and Richard Roeburgh is the villainous Duke who demands the affections of Satine, the glorified courtesan -- a more glamorous moniker for hooker. John Leguizamo is the diminutive side kick, and Alan Cumming seems to fit in perfectly. They all shine and turn in good performances.
The movie is a chick flick. And I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. The advanced screening crowd was filled with women and while few were crying, most were thoroughly entertained. It’s a good movie and worth seeing to see what the fuss is all about. It isn’t appropriate for young kids, but generally it is watchable for everyone. Perhaps the musical will make a comeback. Whatever the case, Moulin Rouge is a decent piece of work. Moulin Rouge opens today, in wider release.
- 30 -
Questions and comments may be sent to: email@example.com
An archive of Joseph Planta's previous columns can be found by clicking HERE .