Truly Great Movies: Moulin Rouge
“No matter what you say the show is ending our way. You’ve gotta stand your ground for freedom, beauty, truth, and love. “ – Chorus, Moulin Rouge
Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge is the reason I learned to worship at the altar of movies again. To put it simply, it is a riot of sound, color and noise that makes every other musical before or since fade under the sad sky of its own ambition.
Luhrmann’s movie reminds even the most hard-hearted humbug what is so gorgeous and compelling about making a fool of yourself for love. Let’s face it – on the surface, the pitch for Moulin Rouge must have sounded like a disaster – “Okay, let’s re-make La Boheme, only set it during a psuedo-19th century Paris burlesque show. Oh, and the soundtrack will be modern pop ballads re-arranged beyond recognition and include such standards as The Police’s “Roxanne” and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”.” Huh? Luckily, someone at 20th Century Fox said, “Brilliant”! and the rest is proverbial history.
Moulin Rouge starts by throwing the audience immediately into the possessed, prismatic world of Christian, a poor writer. He inadvertently stumbles into a case of mistaken identity worthy of a silent film when the courtesan Satine, star of the fading Moulin Rouge show, believes him to be a wealthy duke. The aging show and its stars are pinning all their hopes on the duke being the cash flow that will turn the shambles of an establishment into a legitimate theater.
Of course, love ensues between the jaded Satine and the hopeless romantic Christian, but who really cares when the movie throws so many incredible sights and sounds in the audience’s way? Each song is a carefully crafted gem, and by the time the inevitable show-stopper ending rolls around, time has begun to stand still.
Luhrmann’s jarring use of camera angles and speed and shutter changes to amplify the chaos is at first a tad tough to swallow, but it grows on you. Eventually, it adds to the shabby chic genius of it all. His leading actors are not the world’s greatest singers, but that is inconsequential when they are standing on top of a giant diamond-encrusted elephant.
Nicole Kidman’s best role of her entire career is that of the haughty Satine, who converts to the bohemian ideals of truth, beatuy, freedom and love and takes the audience along with her. She’s stunning here, a vision in heart-shorn red, and its a shame to see her ten years later looking lost and stiff. I prefer to remember her here, as Luhrmann’s radiant muse.
Ewan McGregor is blusteringly charming and endearing as Christian, and his vocal skills aren’t too shabby, either.
Jim Broadbent, whose career as a character actor was just reaching its peak with the movie’s release, takes a role that could have been a mere caricature and gives the money-grubbing showman Zidler a heart. It’s a refreshing moment when the audience sees he cares as much for Satine as he does his precious Moulin Rouge.
Overall, Moulin Rouge has suprisingly stood the test of time, almost ten years after its release. Go ahead, admit you like it. Acceptance is the first step towards recovery to the addiction that is truth, beauty, freedom and love.
Oh – and go ahead and watch the awesome “El Tango Roxanne” number (embedded below) just for kicks. You know you love it.