on February 14, 2004
Well, today is Valentine's Day and love is in the air. Now is the time for me to write my long-awaited review for 2001's "Moulin Rouge." Set in the village of Monmarte in 1899, this film brings Baz Luhrmann's visual talents to the forefront, setting the stage for the return of musical cinema. Actor Ewan McGregor portrays a poor English writer named Christian, whose life is changed forever upon entering the Moulin Rouge. Underneath the flashing lights of the red windmill, the wild carnival barker Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent) proudly presents to the rich an endless night of forbidden pleasures: sex, music, and alcohol. Thanks to the drunken antics of Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) and a Narcoleptic Argentinian (Jacek Kaman), Christian falls madly in love with the show's star, Satine (Nicole Kidman). However, their blossoming relationship slowly turns sour due to two terrible facts. First, Satine isn't allowed to fall in love; as a courtesean, she is paid only to make men believe what the want to believe. Second, she is required to sleep with the violent, possessive Duke (Richard Roxburgh), who offers her money and a chance to become a legitimate actress. Soon enough, as she and Christian try desperately to hide the love they share, the vulnerable Satine could no longer hide behind the mask of the smouldering temptress. Then, when the Duke demands the deeds to the Moulin Rouge, she has to either forget Christian forever or risk living off the streets.
Audiences will be astounded by Baz Luhumann's use of dazzling cinematography, breathtaking sets, stunning costumes, and an eclectic score (which roughly incorporates elements of pop, swing, jazz, and opera). The can-can sequence alone was enough to draw me in; the rapid, kinetic editing of this dance number captures the whirlwind excitement of the club in action. Also, the two halves of the story bear the masks of comedy and tragedy, blending together farce, tongue-in-cheek sexual humor, heartwrenching suspense, and the gripping fear of abuse. From beginning to end, every emotion is pushed to the extreme.
However, "Moulin Rouge" is quite problematic in some areas. What I found to be most unfortunate about this movie is how the tale is far too predictable. Viewers will know ahead of time that Satine, the "Sparkling Diamond," will die of tuberculosis. After the tragic ending is revealed at the start of Christian's narration, the woman repeatedly wrestles with the disease, coughing up blood and fainting to the floor. The plotline itself centers around a disastrous love triangle between the beautiful Satine, the kind Christian, and the insanely jealous Duke. Such a concept has been rehashed too many times in television and literature. To make the sitution even more obvious, the real-life events of the three characters reflect Christian's "Spectacular Spectacular," an opulent play about a courtesean having to choose between a traveling sitar player and the cruel Maharajah. Another flaw in "Moulin Rouge" concerns how the songs were structured. Most of the contemporary pop lyrics were messily glued together. As a result, while some musical moments successfully resurrect elements of a Broadway show, other scenes aren't any better than overblown music videos. Finally, despite the fact that bittersweet love is the movie's main theme, it inflates itself to the point of slushiness. Still, there are some incredible moments one can look forward to; Ewan McGregor's performance of Elton John's "Your Song" brought me to tears. Jacek Kaman's tango in Sting's "Roxanne" escalated the tension between Satine and the Duke. Jim Broadbent's soliloquy of Queen's "The Show Must Go On" once again presented the theatre in all its splendor. And, of course, how can I forget Nicole Kidman's daring and carefree modernization of Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend?"
If you are a big fan of grand Broadway musicals, I recommend you try "Moulin Rouge" at least once. It whet the audience's appetite for better musical cinema, allowing "Chicago" to make a bang at the box office. Does anybody care for a glass of absinthe?