Main cast: Nicole Kidman (Satine), Ewan McGregor (Christian), John Leguizamo (Toulouse Lautrec), Jim Broadbent (Zidler) and Richard Roxburgh (Duke of Monroth)
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Simultaneously exasperating and exhilarating, Moulin Rouge is Baz Luhrmann’s call for revolution: a bohemian revolution unheard of in today’s atmosphere of cynicism. A revolution of truth, beauty, love, and freedom. What crock, eh? Not really.
This story tells of a romance set in 1899 at the French brothel Moulin Rouge. Christian, an earnest, rather naive lad who wants to be an artiste, travels to Moulin Rouge as a screenwriter for a quartet of ragtag actors. He falls for Satine, the most luscious of the courtesans of Moulin Rouge, but alas, Satine belongs to the deceptively bumbling Duke of Monroth. Can love triumph? Especially when Satine is dying of tuberculosis?
Moulin Rouge is one of the worst-edited movies I’ve sat through, let me say this, second only to Mr Luhrmann’s last effort William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Scenes jump at dizzying speed from one to another, leaving me feeling rather nauseous at times. But at the same time, the lavish, opulent sets are a feast for my eyes: decadent, lush, and so colorful, so beautiful.
Nicole Kidman, whom I believe has talent, is lost among the cold, pretty ornaments of the movie set. It’s not her fault – Satine is a role written primarily for her beauty and nothing more. Like most love stories written by men, the love story in Moulin Rouge makes Satine an object rather than a person, or towards the end, when Satine finally becomes human, she becomes a victim. Hence, this love story is a one-man’s love story, not a story of a man and woman. This is Christian’s story and how he made himself a martyr in the name of love.
While there are some beautiful scenes that stand out in my mind (Satine and Christian’s love duet, and oh, Christian’s song for Satine when they first met), at the end, I can’t help feeling that one, Mr Luhrmann has shamelessly plagiarized from his previous movie all the romanticism of Moulin Rouge, and two, the call for an unabashedly romantic revolution is a fake one. Underneath all its cheap sentiments, sometimes honest, sometimes not, Moulin Rouge just cannot escape the call of today’s contemporary equation of artistic credibility with tragedy and martyrdom. You cannot be in love without suffering for it, and you cannot be a real, deep human being if you are happy. That sort of thing artistes love to whip themselves over.
But if Moulin Rouge is an entertaining but hollow ornamental pretty picture, Ewan McGregor shines. He plays Christian with full-blown charming earnesty. When he serenades Satine with his rendition of Elton John’s Your Song, off-key at times, enthusiastically loud and overblown at others, it’s the sweetest love song I’ve ever heard, beautiful in its imperfection. Sincerity and honesty ooze from him, and when he says he is in love, and he believes in beauty, truth, honesty, and freedom, I don’t snort. I sigh. In Christian at least, this movie has its honesty and sincerity. Luhrmann’s cry for a romantic renaissance rings hollow, but Christian’s is a crusade worth dying for.