Filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and co-writer Craig Pearce created in Moulin Rouge a film that is as visually and audibly spectacular as it is fragmented with modern interpretation of bygone cultural themes. The movie superimposes the simple Greek myth of Orpheus on post-revolution Bohemian Paris, communicating with the audience through exaggerated performances of contemporary pop music.Though a bit head-whirling, Luhrmann’s presentation indulges both sense and emotion as masterfully as with his previous film, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. His cocky, self-important approach gives rise to a unique charm, as a person so woefully addicted to boasting will inevitably appear comical through repetition. The production is as over-the-top as the period from which it emanates, almost to the point where the pursuit of substance becomes futile, and, as a musical performed in cinema, it achieves boldness and gaudiness in a way not even Broadway can replicate.
The story itself centers on Christian (Ewan McGregor), a runaway poet from Europe’s upper class who escapes to the heart of Bohemian Paris: the Montmartre district. There he encounters the famous artist Toulouse Loutrec (John Leguizamo) and a gang of Bohemians who introduce him to their ideals and their legendary drink, green-fairy absinthe. His story quickly becomes intertwined with Satine (Nicole Kidman, nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role), a courtesan at the infamous nightclub, the Moulin Rouge. Following the story of Orpheus, Christian charms her into loving him, and the rest of the movie places the two of them in conflict with Satine’s best costumer, a duke who threatens to ruin the club if Satine is not made exclusively his.
The plot, character development, and even the acting seem to surrender themselves to the production as a whole, if for no other reason than that it’s so easy to become distracted by the makeup, costumes, cinematography, and editing (all of which have been nominated for Academy Awards). Lurhmann has assembled a stunningly beautiful period piece, even though it is dumbfounding in its collusion of widely disparate elements. It may not be worthy of Best Picture, but the Academy was right to give it the well-deserved recognition of a nomination. -Steve Rogness