- Baz Luhrmann
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Tuesday, August 28, 2001
The story is simple. It is 19th century Paris and a young penniless writer (Ewan McGregor) gets in the way of a group of bohemian characters (which include Toulouse-Lautrec, played by John Leguizamo) who are preparing a play to be performed at the Moulin Rouge. Thus he gets the chance to meet courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman)... and it’s love at first sight. The problem is a wealthy duke (Richard Roxburgh), who also wants her. He happens to be an important investor, so the club’s owner, Zidler (Jim Broadbent), must please him in any way he likes. A tragic story soon evolves.
The movie is not so relevant for its plot rather than for its style. Baz Luhrmann had already showed us what he was capable of in his two previous outings. We also knew he was different. Using more edits than any other movie in the past few years, and requiring the most complex camera angles, he manages to create a world like nothing we’ve seen before. There’s so much energy going on you’d think the screen might explode any time soon. There were certainly a bit too many slow-motion shots for my taste, but here you don’t really care. It is all about excess.
Much has been said as well about the way the movie employs past hits from every decade as the songs the characters sing. Because the movie is a fantasy you accept what you’re shown and you simply go for it. It is a crazy idea that works to perfection.
There are four musical numbers throughout the movie that rose above all of the others (at least for me) and that I wouldn’t hesitate to call brilliant. They’re so good that they affect the rest of the movie, as you don’t want them to finish and have to go through a number of rather slow scenes to get to the next one. Fortunately they’re spread throughout the entire running length, so you’re always surprised and interested and immersed.
The first one has to be the first 12-15 minutes of the movie. A perfect introduction for what is to come. Wild, colorful, extravagant, with the inspired mixing of Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in a rather peculiar way.
Then comes the “Elephant Love Medley”, a blend of about a dozen love songs (including such as The Beatles’s “All You Need is Love”, David Bowies’s “Heroes”, Elton John’s “Your Song” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”) that Ewan and Nicole sing to each other in what becomes simply the best and most unforgettable sequence of the movie. Unbelievable!
Third is the “Roxanne Tango” musical number (inspired by Sting and Marianito Tores). As intense, erotic and suspenseful as a sequence like this can get. Masterfully performed, emotionally wrenching and very well shot and edited.
Finally, I have to mention the last half hour of the movie, although I don’t want to spoil anything for you so I’ll just say you’re in for a roller-coaster of a ride.
Part of the success of the movie is the way the songs have been so masterfully updated and converted into something completely different from their original versions. From the orchestration to the voices, they are simply wonderful and a very good job was done in this arena.
I have to say Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are at the top of their forms. Both of them. Much of the attention has been surrounded after Nicole, but it is Ewan who I think steals the movie from anyone else. He’s perfect as this romantic leading man who woes Satine and is not afraid of showing his true feelings at any moment. Nicole is ravishing, luminous, funny, you mention it. She’s just wonderful. Supporting players do an excellent job as well.
All in all, a magical, modern, eye-popping, one-of-a-kind musical experience!
“This story is about truth, beauty, freedom; but above all things, this story is about love.”
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