Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century. A Bohemian revolution is slowly gathering strength, fueled by hopeful idealism and large quantities of absinthe. And the glittering jewel in the crown of all this decadence is the Moulin Rouge, the famous Parisian nightclub known for its gorgeous courtesans, spectacular stage shows, and wildly immoral escapades.
Into this world of dancers, midgets, freaks and degenerates comes a naïve young poet, Christian (Ewan McGregor) who, through a series of happy misfortunes, falls in love with the most famous courtesan at the Moulin Rouge, Satine (Nicole Kidman). Satine, initially wary of the young man's declarations of love, soon falls head over heels in love with him, and the two embark on a passionate affair.
Enter the Duke (a delightfully lecherous Richard Roxburgh), a wealthy nobleman obsessed with Satine. Determined to acquire her for himself, he begins courting her aggressively with promises of wealth and power, even agreeing to invest in the Moulin Rouge's latest musical in return for her favour. And as the emotional triangle between Satine, Christian and the Duke heats up, it is Satine who will be forced to make a choice between the two men warring for her attentions...
A stylishly spectacular extravaganza, "Moulin Rouge" is hard to categorize; it is, at different times, a love story, a costume drama, a musical, and a comedy. Director Baz Luhrmann (well-known for the very hip "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet") has taken some simple themes - love, jealousy and obsession - and done something completely new and different with them; he's set them to music. And so the main characters in "Moulin Rouge" do not simply emote - they sing, dance and high-kick their way through a story about "beauty, truth, freedom but above all things, love."
The lead pair are perfectly cast - Kidman, usually cool and collected, sizzles as Paris's most famous siren, while McGregor, handsome and naïvely charming, has never been better. The two play well off each other, even displaying a light comedic touch at times, and it's not hard to believe in their onscreen romance. There are a bunch of other fine performances as well - special mention should be made of John Leguizamo as the famous painter Toulouse Lautrec, and Jim Broadbent as Harry Zidler, the ringmaster of the Mouline Rouge.
A word here about the musical score, which includes both contemporary hits and classic favourites (often in the same song - watch the film and you'll see what I mean.) You'll hear music by David Bowie, Sting, Elton John, Madonna, Diane Warren, Beck and Fatboy Slim, and both Kidman and McGregor display impressive singing talent. Needless to say, Luhrmann's impeccable selection of music hits the emotional highs and lows on the button, illustrating that songs can sometimes express emotion far better than mere speech.
Luhrmann's vision of Paris at the turn of the century may not be completely accurate, but it's so over the top that you don't really care. There's not a moment in "Moulin Rouge" which doesn't enchant - every scene has been painstakingly thought out, and every cut is an orgasmic riot of colours and eye-popping visual effects.
Like its namesake, "Moulin Rouge" is sexy, stylish, a helluva lot of fun...and completely unforgettable. Don't even think about missing this one!This article was first published on 25 Jun 2001.