Moulin Rouge (2001) is a wild ride from beginning to end. It is magical, fantastic and powerful all at the same time. Baz Luhrmann wrote and directed an incredible piece that was only further brought together by the wonderful editing of Jill Bilcock and incredible production design led by Catherine Martin.
I have seen the film twice, and I was amazed both times.
The thing about Moulin Rouge is its payoff for taking risks. The film has unconventional editing techniques that can be seen to be dizzying and exhilarating, renditions of popular songs are interesting to say the least, the cinematic vision of Luhrmann was intense and vivid and the actors dedication to their roles completely earnest. All elements are brilliantly tied together to create one of the best musical films in modern cinema.
The plot is centred around a cliched love triangle set in 1890’s Paris, with prostitution and drugs in abundance and the Bohemian Revolution in full swing. Young writer, Christian (Ewan McGregor) ventures to Paris in hopes to reach new heights in his writing career, only to become involved with the star courtesan of the Moulin Rouge, Satine (Nicole Kidman). A dangerous love affair spirals through posing risks for Satine’s dream of becoming a ‘real actress’, Satine’s health, Christian’s writing career and Christians life. Why? Because the rich and powerful Duke is an overly jealous and paranoid man who wants what he wants with no ifs and buts about it.
Despite the story line being one that has been done before, Luhrmann’s directing capabilities turns it into an exuberant whirlwind of passion and desire – a two hour film of constant exhilarating musical performances and exotic imagery. You barely notice the familiar plot points because you become engulfed in the mastery of the screen, sound and design.
The soundtrack is stellar – incredible renditions of classic and familiar songs that offer a twist and bring a new beauty to already amazing music. A primary song featured throughout this film, as sung by McGregor and Kidman is a rendition of Elton John’s Your Song, a romantic musical commitment between Christian and Satine. Another stand out musical sequence is the rendition of Roxanne originally by the police but covered by McGregor and Jacek Koman presents an incredible passion and strength that plays the forefront for a powerful montage where Satine is having a horrifying encounter with the Duke, in between shots of an intense tango dance sequence that depicts the jealousy and possessiveness that the duke holds in this part of the film. In the Roxanne dance sequence, I think that the film really proves itself as a standout musical film, by incorporating choreography that speaks as much volume as the song itself and the images on the screen.
Further on the Roxanne sequence, this is where the editing is at it is most impressive (though it is impressive entirely throughout). There are quick cuts between different scenarios and rules are broken to create a vivid and immersing montage.
The production design in this film is just as rich; outrageous costumes and overly attentive set design (a giant elephant?) help to set the time period and capture the essence of the characters.
This is on my list of favourite musical films. The choreography, the acting, the singing, the design and the editing have all been exerted at the best possible standard, creating a film that is adventurous, risky and ambitious.