Moulin Rouge Review
In 1996, the band The Divine Comedy released an album called 'Casanova'. The first time I listened to it, the overall impression that I got from it was one of sheer awe at the fearlessly overblown nature of it all, as well as the hugely cinematic quality of many of the songs. However, film musicals were then looking like something of a dying breed; Alan Parker's film of Evita had just done disappointingly at the box office, and it was widely accepted that muscials belonged on the stage, rather than on film, with the inevitably reduced budgets and staging that that entailed. I was waiting for a cinematic experience to match the first time I heard Casanova; apart from Cabaret, no musical ever came close. However, I can happily say that Moulin Rouge is that experience; therefore, please excuse the superlatives that I will use to describe the film.
Set in fin de siecle Paris, the film follows the love affair between the bohemian writer Christian (McGregor) and the courtesan Satine (Kidman), as she prepares to act in a play written by Christian and financed by the Duke of Worcester (Roxburgh), a man with designs on Satine, which are encouraged by Ziegler (Broadbent), the owner of the Moulin Rouge, where the play is to be performed. However, Satine has a dark secret, which will inevitably spell tragedy for all concerned, even as they engage in epic renditions of songs ranging from Madonna's 'Like a Virgin' to Bowie's 'Heroes.'
In a summer where most films have, above all, lacked imagination, it's actually quite difficult to explain how refreshing this film is. Unlike seemingly everyone else, I was unimpressed by Luhrmann's version of 'Romeo and Juliet', finding the stylistic overload jarring and the verse speaking banal in the extreme. However, Luhrmann here makes the intelligent, if daring, decision to completely ignore any notions of restraint or traditionalism, setting the film in a fantasy version of turn-of-the-century Paris, complete with Melies-inspired moon, which even joins in the singing at one point. The film is a glorious mixture of great music, great films and even great literature; I noted references to subjects as diverse as Bollywood musicals, Shakespeare, 19th century melodrama, A Clockwork Orange, Busby Berkeley and, of course, dance music of all eras. It is to Lurhmann's credit that such references never seem forced or self-conscious, but instead exist in the narrative as comfortably as an early scene with a narcoleptic Argentinian crashing through the ceiling, as the dwarfish Toulouse-Lautrec (Leguizamo) tries to persuade Christian to write their musical.
The cast is wonderful, as you would hope. McGregor is fine in possibly the most conventional role of the idealistic writer, showing that his experiences with Star Wars haven't made him start ignoring great scripts. Kidman is luminous as Satine, delivering the sort of classic Film Star performance that genuinely lights up the screen in a way not really seen since the heyday of Grace Kelly and Rita Hayworth, as well as singing surprisingly well. Roxburgh is very funny as, literally, a moustache-twirling villainous duke, and Broadbent is as excellent as usual as the impressario behind the Moulin Rouge itself. There isn't a weak link in the cast, either in terms of acting or singing, nor is there stupid dialogue to let them down in some way.
So, is Moulin Rouge the film of the year so far then? Having not yet seen Spielberg's AI, I can't say for definite whether it is, especially given that it is a more 'frivolous' film than, say, Traffic or Requiem for a Dream, despite being as consummate an artistic achievement as has been seen on screen for years; it goes without saying that the costumes, sets, cinematography etc are all Oscar-worthy. Likewise, many people will feel a sense of profound fatigue at the kinetic energy that the film radiates, with show-stopper following show-stopper in what seems like seconds between each musical number. However, the film shines like a beacon amongst even the enjoyable films released this summer, and is certainly the sort of film that will be on many people's top ten lists come the end of the year, as well as, hopefully, the Oscar nominations. Unreservedly recommended.
Last updated: 26/06/2018 13:10:08