by debbie lynn elias
Starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor as the star-crossed lovers, Satine and Christian, director Baz Luhrmann provides a sumptuous visual feast with his romantic interpretation of the fin-de-siecle Bohemian community located in the infamous turn-of-the-century Montmartre district of Paris at the divinely decadent Moulin Rouge. Relying on the great MGM musicales of years gone by (and a little P.T. Barnum, as well), Luhrmann takes us on a breathtaking whirlwind journey into a forgotten era, breathing life, love, and fantasy, into the now ghostlike Moulin Rouge.
Kidman as Satine, sings and dances her way into not only the hearts of Christian and his arch nemesis, the foppish Duke of Monroth, but into ours as well, with her interpretation of this most coveted, exquisite courtesan, seen performing nightly at the Moulin Rouge. McGregor as Christian (obviously still having the force with him after his turn as young Obi Wan in The Phantom Menace), travels to Paris from England in pursuit of his dream of being a writer while seeking "truth, beauty, freedom and above all, love." On his arrival in Montmartre, the genteel Christian is unwittingly appointed the voice the Children of the Revolution and falls under the watchful, and hopeful, eyes of a group of the Bohemian artisans, led by a dwarfish, lisping Toulouse-Latrec, brilliantly portrayed by John Leguizamo. As luck, and movie-making, would have it, Christian becomes the inspiration and writer for the group, helping them to fulfill their dreams of producing, writing and starring in an all-singing, all-dancing "spectacular spectacular" production at the Moulin Rouge. And the journey begins.
From the opening strains of "The Sound of Music" to the raucous rendition of "Lady Marmalade" and into Satine's sultry seduction of the clientele in "Sparkling Diamonds" (paying homage to those most infamous sex goddesses, Marilyn Monroe and Madonna) the audience is treated to a non-stop visual and auditory repast worthy of Caligula's envy. The romantic stage is lovingly set with Christian's emotional rendition of the Elton John classic, "Your Song", culminating in a love song medley performed atop Satine's tantrically decorated elephant-shaped boudoir.
Traditional comic scenarios common to "boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl" themes play nicely amid this voyeuristic extravaganza, receiving great assistance from songs made famous by the likes of The Beatles, David Bowie, Whitney Houston and of, course, Elton John. Not so traditional, however, is Jim Broadbent's rendition of "Like A Virgin" which is played to the hilt and will have you in stitches from laughter.
Jim Broadbent, as Harold Zidler, the rouged and mustachioed emcee of the Moulin Rouge, gives an unforgettable portrayal, surpassing those luscious performances of an emcee in Cabaret by both Joel Grey and Alan Cumming. Adding to his absurd Barnumesque character, Broadbent provides a touch of humanity with his desire and effort to be protective and almost fatherly to Satine while trying not to squelch his over-riding passion for money.
Rapid-firing editing, surreal visualization, Busby Berkley-type dance numbers, ornate sets created under the art direction of Anne Marie Beauchamp, as well as the at times appropriately garish, yet always colorful and sensual costuming of Catherine Martin and Angus Strathei, are only enhanced with spectacular fantastical psychedelic digital effects to complete one's escape into the underworld of the Moulin Rouge. Nods to a few well known scenes from some of the most beloved films in movie history add not only that extra touch of camp, but will warm the hearts of both avid movie fans and newcomers alike.
In short, Kidman and McGregor shine like diamonds in the sky, proving once again that at least in movies, there is no greater thing than to love and be loved in return - or to have big box office in Hollywood. From art direction and set design to costuming, acting and directing, this film screams Oscar for March 2002. This is Baz Luhrmann's world. Welcome, to Moulin Rouge!