*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I went to see 'Moulin Rouge' with high expectations: I was not
disappointed. On a big screen, in a traditional 'red curtain' cinema,
it enveloped me in colour, music, dancing and dazzling visual fantasy.
I laughed, I cried, I went out and bought the soundtrack!
The plot is simple: 'La Dame aux Camélias', with added vitality from a colourful crew of comic supporting players. Behind the modernity of the visual effects and use of familiar pop songs in the soundtrack (each prompting a delighted gasp or laugh of recognition from my friends and myself), this is an old-fashioned musical with a warm, uncynical heart. It's just over 2 hours of romantic escapism - which we all need a shot of, from time to time.
Our ingénu hero Christian (Ewan McGregor) arrives in Paris, fleeing his strict father, to become a writer. With echoes of 'La Bohème', he falls in with a motley crew of bohemians, or rather, *they* fall in on him. Literally. Through the ceiling. In an attempt to obtain financial backing for his friends' new play, he falls in love with the beautiful and ambitious cabaret singer and courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman). Their romance is threatened by the scheming Duc de Monroth (pronounce it French-style - and remember 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend'!), who holds the deeds of the Moulin Rouge as security on gaining Satine's favours. But a still greater danger is lurking, as Satine begins to suffer fainting fits and cough blood when she comes off stage...
Where Baz Luhrmann and his team have worked wonders is in revitalising the musical - a genre which has been fading in the West - by looking to the East, to Bollywood, where it has never died. 'Moulin Rouge' is essentially a westernised Bollywood film, blending comedy and tragedy with stunning visual style and lively song-and-dance numbers. The climactic scene from the Indian-themed show Christian has written, 'Spectacular Spectacular!' acknowledges the film's key stylistic influence.
Meanwhile, Christian's public humiliation of Satine, hurling money at her feet, is straight from the original Dumas novel. The carpet of scattered red and white petals which surround the lovers at the tragic end - long anticipated, but still heart-wrenching when it comes - are surely a nod to Marguerite Gautier's camellias. If the modernity of approach has jarred some ears, well, a previous, less humorous musical version had similar problems in the 1850s: but Verdi's 'La Traviata' nevertheless has been a great hit ever since!
There are also nods to other influences: the Méliès-inspired 'magic lantern slide' vistas of Paris, lit by a smiling, singing moon; and 'La Fée Verte' - Kylie Minogue's red-eyed Absinthe Fairy - zipping over the city and illuminating it with her wand in a cheeky parody of the Disney version of Tinker Bell!
The songs have been used effectively, to advance the story and illuminate character. 'El Tango de Roxanne' is a particularly striking piece, underscoring the tensions and jealousies when Satine is on the point of sacrificing herself to the Duc. The 'Elephant Love Medley' is delightful - funny and romantic, while 'On with the Show' makes the most of the dramatic power inherent in so many 'Queen' songs. And I will never hear 'Like a Virgin' again without thinking of its use as a comedy number by the endearing Jim Broadbent as Harold Zidler...!
'Moulin Rouge' is an enchanting way to spend an evening. It glitters and shimmers like Art Nouveau favrile glass. The costumes, sets, photography and choreography deserve every award going! I can see this film becoming a standard Christmas classic when it reaches TV, or becoming a cult movie, with sing-along audiences dressing up as the characters. Certainly joining in with boos, cheers, and laughs is an essential part of the fun! To be watched with a shot of 'Green Fairy' close at hand! I cannot wait to see what Baz Luhrmann - the cinematic 'Wizard of Oz' - will do next!
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