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Moulin Rogue! (Baz Luhrmann) 2001

Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rogue! is a frenzy of color, music, and emotion. The film isn't so much a reinvention of the musical genre as a reassertion of it. Its themes are no different than most old-school musicals. The film seizes the inherent camp and energy involved when characters break into song, but rarely stops to laugh at itself or point out its cleverness. The film isn't perfect, but there are some scenes that just work amazingly well. There are several sequences that are perfectly realized. The first twenty minute's initiation of our young hero, a poet named Christian (Ewan McGregor), into the band of bohemians and his subsequent introduction to the Moulin Rogue and its star attraction, a courtesan named Satine (Nicole Kidman), is particularly mind-blowing.  The second half is solid, but doesn't reach those insane heights as consistently as the first half does. Despite that though, the film never really falters, it just hits home runs less frequently in the second half in which it attempts to graft a dramatic heft to the proceedings. A pleasures a film like this provide don't have much to do with plot, so when the film moves toward a more structured (if simplistic) format, it's a bit disappointing.

I read somewhere that Luhrman was inspired by Bollywood movies, and it definitely shows here. The film is an absolute celebration of excess. There is a juxtaposition of tragedy, comedy, suspense, and romance often in the same scene. The film is exceptionally, enthusiastically manipulative of its audience, but the film, surprisingly, never burnt me out with its gaudiness. The editing never really seemed to distract me either (though it surely was hyperactive). I really loved the set design. The four lead performances were all great, with special mention going to Kidman, who manages a comic sass that she hasn't really shown since To Die For. Chemistry between McGregor and her (an exceptionally attractive couple) is rarely strained. There are certainly sequences in the film that one simply would need to see again to appreciate them. So many images flash by so quickly that it is nearly impossible to absorb them all on one viewing. The film's single biggest highlight is an impromptu pitch of a play within the play to the Duke that feels like a live action Bugs Bunny bit (in the best sense), but this is a film that is filled with highlights.

****

September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman