To this rich music heritage the screenplay affixes the most generic and conventional of plots; a penniless artist meets an equally penniless girl betrothed to a wealthy man, whom he has fallen in love. Yet, the best of vintage Hollywood musicals have functioned on far less. What is perhaps most inspiring about Luhrmann’s tour de force is his ability to make these generalities seem quite unconventional and fresh.
The film stars Nicole Kidman as Satine, a courtesan at Paris' most decadent nightclub. She is forced into a romance with the maniacal, Duke (Richard Roxbury) by her employer/pimp, Harold Zeitler (Jim Broadbent) but falls for artist and poet, Christian (Ewan McGregor) instead. Typical musical fare, but carried off with flair and good humour.
We first meet Christian, hungry and struggling in his cold water flat to pen a great story on which his future fame as a writer will hang. He is mercilessly interrupted in this endeavour by Henri de Toulouse-Latrec (John Leguizamo) and his merry band of Bohemian artists who crash through the ceiling of Christian's apartment singing an aria from The Sound of Music introducing Christian to the wonderful mind-altering properties of Abthence.
Floating on the ether of the Green Fairy (Kylie Mynogue), Christian arrives at the Moulin Rouge in time to witness the club's sultry star attraction, Satine descend from a rhinestone encrusted swing in the ceiling. Captivated by her beauty, Christian is quite unaware that he is in direct competition for Satine's affections with the Duke, whom Harold hopes to convince to finance his new enterprise by loaning Satine in sexual trade.
But the Duke is a masochist with a frigid exterior. By contrast, Christian offers Satine a life of passionate respect - if, on a budget. After convincing Satine in song that they should become lovers, Christian fools the Duke into believing that his interests in Satine are strictly focused as the musical director on Harold's new show. However, at every conceivable turn Christian finds ways to divert Satine's commitments from rendezvous with the Duke to 'working on the show'. Only fellow dancer and aspiring star, Nini Legs in the Air (Caroline O'Connor) knows better.
After Nini convinces the Duke that Satine and Christian are collaborating on more than high art behind closed doors it is up to Harold to tame the Duke's frustrated inflamed desires. This he does to riotous effect in one of the film's show-stopping moments; belting out 'Like A Virgin' to the Duke to illustrate Satine's desire is to cleanse herself of a spurious past through prayer.
However, unbeknownst to Christian and the Duke, Satine is dying of tuberculosis - her condition grave as the date for Harold's new theatrical endeavour nears. Harold convinces Satine that she must renounce Christian and pledge herself to the Duke in order to spare the Moulin Rouge from bankruptcy. Reluctantly Satine agrees, leaving Christian feeling as though their entire romance was a lie.
To relieve his pain, Christian crashes the show's premiere, casting Satine to the ground in a cascade of bills as payment for services rendered. Satine confesses that she has always loved Christian and, to a stunned house, they are reunited in song moments before the final curtain. But the reunion is bittersweet. For time has run out on Satine's condition. She collapses in Christian's arms and dies with the promise of their lives together unfulfilled. The days turn into months and Christian, at one with his arctic desolation, finally sits down at his typewriter to pen his story - the memoir of his great romance with Satine.
Moulin Rouge is compelling, visceral and enigmatic entertainment; its superb amalgam of transcendent pop culture songs perfectly grafted onto the lost decadence of 19th century France. As proprietor of Paris’ most bawdy hot spot, Jim Broadbent emerges as something of a loveable gargoyle – baiting the Duke with prospects of bedding his most eligible whore, all the while plotting to turn his den of iniquity into a legitimate theatre with the Duke’s money. In the end, nobody wins – an uncharacteristic, but telling postmodern epitaph to the musical genre usually bent on its happy endings.
Viewed 10 years from its premiere, Moulin Rouge has lost nothing of its wicked charm. As the ill fated lovers, Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman have sparked chemistry so palpable and intertwined that one can almost forget them as the stars they so obviously are and simply become immersed through their finely wrought characterizations. Neither was nominated for an Oscar - a tragedy more unsettling than the one that closes the film.
What most critics and AMPAS perhaps overlooked in their reviews 10 years ago – for there can be no other reason to exclude Baz Luhrmann from what ought to have been his most justly deserved Best Director Oscar nomination (and, at least in this critic's opinion; well deserved win) – is that his Moulin Rouge is a wickedly satirical slant on contemporary life – perceived as a delicious - if utterly devious - party where the only plausible escape is through sublime death.
The screenplay is a critique of youth gone sour with Luhrmann and Pearce's subliminal snap at sex as commerce quite fulfilling. Moulin Rouge then, is a musical of varying tempos but only one real melody – that of truly enchanted entertainment. The acting throughout is superb camp of the highest order; the pacing, manic and exciting; and the film – spectacular, spectacular!
Fox Home Video's Blu-Ray is a wonder to behold. The obvious benefactor of a new and painstaking remastering effort, Moulin Rouge is more colourful, gay and finely wrought than ever before; easily besting Fox's 2-disc DVD offering from 2002. Colour fidelity has been exceptionally realized with razor sharp detail throughout. This is a reference quality Blu-ray that belongs on everyone's top shelf. Fox gives us a 5.1 DTS audio that represents the film's soundtrack as never before. Subtle effects that were eclipsed in the previous DVD's audio are brought forth herein, adding another rich dimension to a film of already rare qualities.
Extras include many of the highlights from the DVD, including Baz Luhrmann's audio commentary, stills gallery, reference art work and theatrical trailers, in addition to several all new featurettes on practically every aspect of the making of the film, plus an exclusive intro by Luhrmann. Highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)