Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Runtime: 127 minutes
Moulin Rouge! is the first live-action musical nominated for Best Picture since Cabaret in 1972, taking for consideration that 1991’s Beauty and the Beast is also a musical, albeit animated.
Most reviews were positive. This became a box-office hit and immediately gained a following. The Academy recognized almost everything in this film except the Best Director nod for Baz Luhrmann, making his snub one of the most mysterious in recent history given the number of nominations of the film signaling that the Academy indeed loved the film.
In the end, I think the film was either 3rd or 4th in the ranking of most votes, depending on how they loved Gosford Park.
The film is about Christian, an estranged and aspiring playwright seeking for his place in life, who travels and stays in Paris, near the Moulin Rouge, an infamous cabaret known for its wild girls who party with men to the extreme heights of energy. Trapped in loneliness, he encounters Toulouse-Lautrec and his company. They work on a new play. They are also the one who brought Christina to the Moulin Rouge, where Christian met the breathtakingly attractive but terminally ill courtesan Satine.
Harold Zidler, the big daddy of the cabaret, arranges a meeting with Satine and the Duke of Monroth. In the twist of misunderstandings, Satine mistakes Christian for a rich duke. Little does she know that the real duke, the Duke, is a selfish and hot-tempered person that would do anything just to get what he wants, which, in this case, is Satine.
Even if the Duke already made a deal with Harold Zidler for the ownership of Satine, Christian and Satine ensue into an illicit rendezvous. As they practice for a play close to their love story, the passion continued. As the Duke came to know the affair, he did everything he can just to keep Satine in his hands.
Wow! That’s the only word I could say after watching this film. Seriously.
The direction is over-the-top. I say this directly – it is. Normally, I hate over-the-top direction because they are distracting (Precious, for example), but not in this case. The kind of direction it had fits the material so well. I could not have imagined this movie to be told in any other way. The concept about people in extreme energy and ecstasy made the direction fit for the movie to use. Also, the direction know where to punch the emotions right at us. It is a very knowing direction, and I can feel the effort and the intelligence in it. One scene pops into my mind when I say this line – the El Tango de Roxanne sequence. It’s an earth-shattering sequence, to say the least. The amount of power in the scenes as they build up to the climax of the song creates a breathtaking and surreal moment only cinema could make.
It was also consistent with its tone. It never becomes shaky, but even if it was indeed consistent with its exaggerated and energetic nature of the direction, it never became tiring to watch. Most importantly, it made this film unique. That’s the biggest achievement of this film. There are a lot of good films, but you forget them simply because there is nothing that makes it stand out from the rest. Moulin Rouge! makes a mark on its own not only as a great film, but also as an important and memorable film.
The screenplay is good, if a bit shallow. To tell you the truth, the story is not the most original story you will ever hear, there is nothing extraordinary in the dialogue, but it serves the story quite well. In fact, this could be the weakest facet of the film. This film is more of a visual experience than something to think and understand deeply. Not that it is bad; actually, I am not complaining about it. There are also great film which has its screenplay as a lesser part of the movie simply because it becomes a second importance when you actually watch it already. Actually, I may cite its stereotypical characters, particularly the Duke, who is undoubtedly a one-dimensional villain, but when you watch it, you do not care about it anymore. You just let the movie absorb you and you just go with the ride. Again, this is not a complaint, just an observation.
The cinematography and editing are as mad as hell. And I say this in a positive light. Those two understood the nature of the story and the style the director employs for the film, and all I could say, the film was amazing, and it’s largely due to these. The cinematography saturated the colors to emphasize the artistic tragedy the film portrays, the editing blasts an overwhelming and mind-blowing force to strike the audience with the fantastical world it shows, and the masterful blending of the two to show the expertise of the people behind this one hell of a movie.
The first half of the film demonstrated the skills used in this. Because of that, the film was successfully able to create the milieu of clinging despair and hopeful love. The scenes at the Moulin Rouge, especially the first musical number in the club, represents the bombastic energy and effort these people have. Every short cut it shows push the musical number forward until it reaches the climax of the song which is Satine’s first appearance in Christian’s eyes. And her entrance! Do notice her very pale complexion with some blue tone. It already signified a person slowly absorbed by death, but the statement of it is not blatant – it is all said in the shots, in the shades, in the colors.
The music is amazing. The songs used are definitely in sync with the story – there’s no song in the soundtrack that felt out-of-place or unnecessary. The song could be an entertaining haven (The Can-Can) or devastating flush of emotions (El Tango del Roxanne), but all of the songs added life to the story, making this film a very effective musical. The anachronistic usage of contemporary songs prove how brilliant and creative theses people are. Okay, so you may notice I did not say a lot about this music. I’ll let you hear the music for yourself.
The costumes and art direction are some of the best you would see.
The whole creation of Paris, most especially the Moulin Rouge itself, demonstrate an unequaled amount of artistry that must be seen to be believed. Set pieces have never been this epic in feel. And we don’t even have an epic story here, yet. Every part of the Moulin Rouge suggests a very deep understanding about the nature of the people in that place – filled with worldly excitement, intoxication, influence of drugs, and lust. But it also holds back. They know this is not a strip club or a brothel. This is different, and so they did – they defined the difference between a dance club and a brothel with a very thin line between the two by adding the enchanting bedazzlement that Moulin Rouge has in the first place.
The costumes… well. The clothes of the girls, those naughty girls! Although what they show most of the time is the lining under their skirt, the dresses themselves are beautifully designed. I’m not a costume designer, and I am not very good in designing, even in drawing, but I can appreciate beautiful costumes, and they are. The red dress worn by Satine in her night after her consumption caused her to faint is stunning, and the rest are, too.
The acting is fantastic.
Ewan McGregor is heartbreaking as the writer Christian. The naive nature of the character is not annoying, though it is consistent throughout the film. What made me love this performance is on how he was able to bare the soul of this character with minimal work. We only discover a little from him, and we all know that he is estranged in this world, but he makes us understand his character. He is mostly reserved, but he was able to bare his soul – how could that be possible? I don’t know. There is this one very powerful scene of his (again, the El Tango del Roxanne sequence) where he starts to sing calmly, but as he slowly accepts the fact that his love for Satine is a love to kill, he bursts into tears while singing. To those who have seen the film, you know that this sequence is full of brief but intensely powerful shots played along with an explosive music. Still, I remember that one very brief shot where he shouts and cries out loud to the window. That exhilarating moment itself made my day. Apart from that, the was able to ground his character on a reality that’s as natural as you can get. I feel like I can talk to this person because he is so real. And most of all, I cared about him. Not to mention that his voice is terrific.
Nicole Kidman is fragile, untouchable, and at the same time, insanely sexy as Satine. Right from the start, we all know she would die, as told by Christian, and her first appearance is a very slow superimposition of her image over the dark and grim images of the opening. She is almost an apparition, like a ghost. But once she enters, she immediately fills the screen with unabashed and thunderous presence that you can never take your eyes off her. Her voice could be a bit thin, but this does not stop her from creating this image of desperation using her sexuality to survive. The illness of the character looked believable, and it made me worry a lot too. The comedy, she can handle it. The music, she can sing it. But it is the dramatic scenes of being lost and being hopeless that made me love this performance. Her plea for advice from Harold Zidler as she also struggles to keep her thinking clear from the disease that’s affecting her in that very moment is, to say the least, depressing to watch since you see Satine, this glowing persona, fall unto the earth, trying to bring herself up is emotionally draining. And, again the El Tango del Roxanne sequence gave us some of the most unforgettable images of the film – Satine crying, with all the tears from her eyes flushing, as the Duke puts her into an inevitable shame, is a chilling demise for the character. We love this character, and that’s because of Kidman’s capability to channel the character to us, and to see her in an unimaginable horror situation just tears our heart.
Jim Broadbent is colorfully dynamic as Harold Zidler. He is almost cartoonish in his depuction in the first half of the film where his role is to become the big daddy of the party. He releases a ravishing power that’s both funny and affecting. As the second half of the film enters, and things for Christian and Satine complicate, he himself makes his own move to separate the two, not because he do not want them to be happy, but because he is afraid that Satine would end up in doom. He cares for Satine, not only because she is his talent, but because he cares for her, too. It is visible in his eyes the worry that he feels for her. It’s a performance that deserves an iconic status, to say the least.
The rest played stereotypical roles, but all of them played the roles with such enthusiasm and diversity that you don’t care anymore.
There are flaws in this film, I admit. But when you have such greatness mounted in this kind of film, you don’t care anymore. The impact that it leaves to you is indelible, whether you love it or not. After watching this film, I felt emotionally drained. I was speechless. It was a pulse-pounding ride.
For this, the movie gets: