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Moulin Rouge

Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman as Satine
in a story about
Truth, Beauty, Freedom...
and Love

Moulin Rouge! (2001) starstarstarstar

Reviewed 2001-12-22
: This is an old-fashioned love story (inspired, I suppose, by La Bohème), in an old-fashioned time (Paris, 1900), told with modern pop tunes. I can't imagine how this was pitched to studio executives. It isn't Second Look Reviewreally a musical, though it is musical. And all the way down through the last frame of the closing credits it is clear that this is a story about love, but to pitch it as a "hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold" story would kill it instantly -- yet that's in it, too. And, please tell me, how can Nicole Kidman be so beautiful and so darn talented? There is nothing that woman can't do!

Of course, the secret of Satine (Kidman), the Moulin Rouge actress who is a courtesan on the side -- a secret which is known to the viewer and to all the characters except her love interest, Christian (Ewan McGregor) -- is that she is dying of TB. She knows it, but she can never admit it: not to Christian; not to the Duke (Richard Roxburgh), who negotiates her affections in exchange for a new theatre and a show that will make her a "real actress"; not even to herself. The dilemma is a classic: does she go with the sexy young man who has nothing to offer but love, or with the man with money and security to offer? Women in real life have taken the latter choice for eons, if you can call it a choice, but Moulin Rouge! is a bohemian milieu, after all, and pre-feminist to boot, so of course love must triumph. Mustn't it?

There are some great supporting performances to round out a story directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann, who gave us, in a similar quick-cut, highly charged style, the memorable William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. I mention a few, such as the emcee and club owner, Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), and the painter Toulouse-Lautrec (a digitally foreshortened John Leguizamo). Ewan McGregor was excellent as the lost-in-love writer, Christian, and he and Nicole Kidman sang their own songs, for which I give high marks to both -- not only for the attempt but for the pleasing results. The production is highly kinetic and visually stunning; although the music is borrowed from pop tunes, the players make them sound like they are inventing the music and lyrics, "touched for the very first time." There is no nudity and only mild sexual content, which made me wonder if I really was looking at Paris. This off-center production will seem strange to some, but this is definitely a film worth seeing: I can fully understand why the title, Moulin Rouge! is written with a bang!

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.