|By Mira Harber
new film by director Baz Luhrmann, is really a cross between a big old-time
movie musical and classic opera. Before you stop reading, consider this;
have you ever really read the plots to just about any opera? A fair
description of most operas would be that they are totally over-the-top,
soap operas tossed up with great music.
Rouge is straight out of classic opera - star crossed lovers, a nasty,
lascivious Duke, the beauteous heroine dying of consumption (TB in today’s
language) all mixed up in the deliciously energetic, sometimes frantic
world of the Moulin Rouge.
Nicole Kidman plays Satine, the most fabulous of all ‘courtesans’ (‘working
girl’ in today’s language). She is a brilliant diamond, and the two men
competing for her attentions are the penniless writer, Christian (Ewan
McGregor) and the rich, lustful Duke (Richard Roxborough). Christian is
scribbling away in his tiny Parisian attic when Toulouse Lautrec, the infamous
artist who immortalized the Moulin Rouge with his paintings, falls through
the roof into his room. So commences a story that begins with such hope
and tragically ends in the death of one of the principal characters.
Christian will write the new play that Toulouse and his friends, particularly
the sensational Satine, will to act in. Everyone will attain his/her dream.
Everybody has a dream and Satine’s dream is to be a ‘real’ actress. Ewan’s
is to be a ‘real’ writer. Toulouse Lautrec and his friends live for ‘truth,
honor, and integrity’ and they live to express those ideals artistically.
The only trouble is, they all need money to put on the new play.
Idler, the impresario of the Moulin Rouge, played completely deliciously
and totally outrageously by Jim Broad bent (last seen as the sourpuss Gilbert
in Topsy-Turvy, but here a tough exterior, marshmallow interior kind of
guy) has a dream too - to stay in business. He arranges for the oily Duke
to meet Satine, and the rest is a foregone conclusion. The scummy Duke
slimes his way into Satine’s rooms and he is more than happy to put up
the money for the show, as long as he attains his dream, which Satine puts
off until opening night. The Duke is totally dazzled by Satine and acquiesces
to her every request - knowing that his dream, Satine, will soon be his.
At first I was overwhelmed by the MTV quality of the opening sequences
- fast and furious, extraordinarily vivid colors and non-stop movement
- I almost felt dizzy when I first starting watching Moulin Rouge.
When the characters broke into song, I was a little uneasy - Fred Astaire
was the last time I can remember watching a movie musical, and even then
it seemed hokey. But boy is this different - the unconventional use of
music is fantastic here. Modern music blasts on as we look at an
operatic 50’s looking film with a late 19th century theme. Two of the best
musical sequences feature super-sexually charged Tango Dancers strutting
their stuff to the music of Roxanne and a really funny Zidler and all-male
chorus/dancers doing Like A Virgin with more than a nod being passed to
Madonna in Material Girl & Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend
This unusual pairing of the old forms, song & dance and even opera,
combine terrifically well with modern music
leads even sing their own music, and how often does that happen? (think
Audrey Hepburn/Julie Andrew’s in My Fair Lady). Nicole’s voice is good,
but the real surprise is Ewan McGregor - that boy can really sing. He is
convincing too - when he pours his heart out in jealousy and rage, or in
a love song, you believe him - watch out Bono & Sting!
By the end of the movie, I was totally won over. Big emotions on the big
screen, larger than life characters and story - this is the movie for people
who think they don’t like musicals. Director Baz Luhrmann brought us the
post-modern Romeo & Juliet and the infectiously delightful Strictly
Ballroom. Do you remember that?
Whoever thought we'd be remotely interested in ballroom dancing? With Moulin
Rouge, Luhrmann succeeds again, and then some. It will assault your
senses, but surprisingly, touch them too. Bring a hanky, just in case.