Retro Review: Moulin Rouge

Lush, extravagant, magical and breath-taking are some of the words that may spring to my mouth when arriving at my opinion of “Moulin Rouge”.

Nicole Kidman stars as the French goddess Satine, who rules the lush can-can club the Moulin Rouge. Her beautiful grace and singing enchants hundreds of male patrons.

One fateful night, a struggling writer named Christian (Ewan McGregor) is asked by a struggling theatre company to present an idea to the influential goddess, Satine. Their idea is a lavish musical that would celebrate the Bohemian passion that dwells in the hearts of Paris. During his meeting with Satine, Christian commits one fatal error, he falls in love with the unattainable goddess.

For Christian to win Satine, he must outwit an evil Duke, unlock Satine’s haunting secret and get out alive. What will finally bring these two star-crossed lovers together and what may tear them apart?

At its very core, “Moulin Rouge” is a very powerful love-story that will overcome you like a wave of emotion.

The melodies and passion from the film’s two leads will allow you to embrace their love with an on-screen passion that probably hasn’t been seen since “Titanic” or “Somewhere In Time”.

For this writer, “Somewhere in Time” is one of the greatest love stories ever captured on celluloid. Like “Somewhere”, Rouge has a hero who falls for a performer much to the astonishment of her manager and has a musical score that will sit with you for years to come.

It’s very hard to describe the passion and beautiful magic that is displayed here. Sure it’s a musical that has huge lavish musical numbers but it’s the quiet songs that are the true magic. The melodies captured in the smaller songs will astonish a lot of movie-goers but may also envelope them. The chemistry of the leads and their duets may just revive the musical for one more encore.

I was swept away by the film’s tender moments but I was dismayed and a little uneasy when seeing the huge musical numbers. It has been a while since I have seen any of the classic musicals of yesteryear or watched the brilliance of Broadway. That could be part of the problem I had with the very loud and grand musical numbers. In some scenes, we have over a hundred dancers dancing as one and all being jolly at the same time. I felt their tone pulled away from the “beautiful torment” of the central love story.

I have seen some stage productions that bring forth the tranquil torment that is a great love-story and embrace it. Andrew Lloyd Wedder’s “Phantom of the Opera” embraced this philosophy and I was enthralled. I was hoping that Moulin Rouge would have followed suit. It is true it would have been a different picture if this angle would have been played out.

Director Baz Luhrmann paints a beautiful canvass that is Paris, circa 1900. His lush costumes, utterly amazing sets and keen eye will pull you into this beautiful but some what haunting world. I absolutely fell in love with the brilliant Elephant house which is Satine’s dressing room and apartment. Her living inside a magical place like that really shows the desire the director is trying to convey in fleshing out the mysterious Satine.

Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Satine is all encompassing as she gives that role everything she has. This role is by far the greatest thing Nicole has ever done. She is Satine and she is breath-taking. Her vocal range filled the theatre speakers with magic as she greets an impending duet with McGregor. Kidman tends to play down her character’s secret but when it becomes over-coming it will make the audience gasp. Her performance is that good.

Ewan McGregor was a strange casting for such a huge role when I first heard about “Moulin Rouge”. I remembered how awful “A Life Less Ordinary” was and cringed when thinking of an audience believing he could fall for Kidman in a grand musical. After seeing the film and hearing his music played over and over again, I realized just how much magic he did deliver. His voice and how he did grasp the songs was a complete shock. My hat is off to you, Ewan. Another surprising element about McGregor’s performance is that he delivers the word “love” in almost every scene and not for an instant do we not believe that he isn’t saying it from the bottom of his heart.

Aside from the Moulin Rouge owner Harold Zidler, played brilliantly by Jim Broadbent, I found the rest of the cast forgettable. They were used for scenery, humor and tension but little else. This is a blessing and a curse throughout the film. In some scenes, where Satine and Christian are separated you need the musical and dramatic support of the other cast members but I really never felt their full support.

I also found the evil Duke to be more annoying and crude that truly a threat. He would exclaim, “Do you think I am stupid!” and I would always have to agree with him that he was very. This character should have been more menacing. I also felt that his singing could have been better for pealing paint that for entertaining.

“Moulin Rouge” isn’t for everyone but will definitely enthrall real theatre goers and patrons of Broadway. For those of us who aren’t familiar with that atmosphere, I hope “Moulin Rouge” will make us believe in love again and if not, “come what may”.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

“The greatest thing we learn is to love and to find that love in return.”
Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge, 2001

One thought on “Retro Review: Moulin Rouge

  1. This is a story about life. And about the artists who congregated in Paris in 1900, living a bohemian lifestyle and giving the world the fruits of their labor, of their art, for which they would gladly bleed and die. But mostly this is a story about love. Of a young man named Christian, a penniless writer, and a singer named Satine, who for a moment came together and tasted the nectar of the gods. `Moulin Rouge,’ written and directed by Baz Luhrmann, takes you into a world that is bright and brilliant, fast and flashy and filled with all of the things that make life worth living. It’s a fantasy world of song and color, of soaring hearts and aspirations– but also of the reality upon which the illusion of it all is built. And the effects of that reality on Christian and Satine, whose love has been forbidden by that same reality they seek to dispel by impaling it with the artistic endeavors that give them life.

    If Disney had commissioned a film to be written by Shakespeare, directed by Fellini and produced by Spielberg, this would be it. It’s a dizzying, whirling burst of lights, colors, music, drama and comedy that assails the senses and will hold you spellbound from beginning to end. Like the bohemians he portrays, Luhrmann leaves convention behind and dips instead into his own inspired and highly imaginative formula to tell his story. The cinematography (by Donald McAlpine) and art direction (by Ann-Marie Beauchamp and Ian Gracie) are brilliant, as well as the production design (by Catherine Martin) and the sets (by Brigitte Broch). One of the many inspired touches Luhrmann employs here, is the use of different film speeds throughout, which, when combined with the superlative, quick-cut editing (by Jill Bilcock), makes it all transporting and surreal.

    Ewan McGregor turns is a terrific performance as Christian, the young man who arrives in Paris with nothing more than spirit and a head filled with ideas and ideals. When artistic differences leaves Zidler (Jim Broadbent), proprietor of the Moulin Rouge, without a writer for a new show, `Spectacular, Spectacular,’ Christian steps in. And so does McGregor, who shines in the part. And the boy can sing! He may not have the greatest voice in the world, but it’s a good `stage voice,’ and most importantly, he can sell a song, as evidenced by the scene in which he puts across Elton John’s `Your Song.’ McGregor has a charismatic screen presence, and in this role he really gets a chance to demonstrate his versatility as an actor.

    As Satine, Nicole Kidman is saucy and sensuous, bringing her character vividly to life, this woman who makes her living by being every man’s fantasy as she sings and sashays her way through this world of the Moulin Rouge. In her heart, she longs to be a serious actress, and if this new show is a success, she just may get her chance. But first, the show needs someone to finance the lavish production. They may have one– the Duke of Worcester (Richard Roxburgh), has expressed interest, but he has one condition. If he pays for the show he wants something in return (besides a profit on his investment). He wants Satine. But so does Christian, who has nothing to offer the show but his talent, and nothing for Satine but his love. Zidler, meanwhile, aware of the Duke’s demands, urges Satine to turn her back on Christian, to `save him.’ And beyond and besides all that is happening, there is something else going on with Satine, something more personal, that ultimately will have an effect on the outcome of the dilemma for all concerned.

    The supporting cast includes John Leguizamo (Toulouse Lautrec), Kylie Minogue (The Green Fairy), Garry McDonald (Doctor), Jacek Koman (The Narcoleptic Argentinean), Matthew Whittet (Satie), Kerry Walker (Marie) and Laszlo Lukas (Conductor). With an eye for detail and his imagination thrust into overdrive, Luhrmann has put together and delivered one of the brightest films to come along in quite awhile. `Moulin Rouge’ is an explosion of sights and sounds, a film laced with humor and visual largess that holds a poignant and dramatic story at it’s heart. Entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable, this is a memorable film and a satisfying movie-going experience. It’s a story about love; a story told through the magic of the movies. I rate this one 9/10.

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