Moulin Rouge! is a spectacular drama, drawing inspiration from the history of musical theatre with elements from classical opera, vaudeville, Bollywood, and contemporary music videos. The story, which is taken from well-known operas such as La bohème and La traviata, is about a young poet named Christian (Ewan McGregor) who falls in love with courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman), star of the infamous Moulin Rouge cabaret at the turn of the 20th century. He, with help from his Bohemian friends, wins her over with lyrics and music, casting her as the lead in their musical theatre piece, Spectacular Spectacular. However, the two young lovers must hide their love from the owner of the Moulin Rouge, Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), and the nefarious Duke (Richard Roxburgh), who is infatuated with Satine. Tragically, Satine also suffers from tuberculosis, which inevitably shortens her days with Christian and complicates their lives. Drama and glorious musical numbers ensue.
As with Baz Luhrman’s other films, Moulin Rouge! uses an impactful but anachronistic soundtrack of contemporary music. Songs by Madonna, David Bowie, The Police, Nirvana, and Elton John are featured heavily, sometimes even mashed together. The visuals also complement the musical pastiche, dizzily incorporating music video aesthetics and flashy, turn-of-the-century costuming and sets, and culminating in an incredible Bollywood-inspired finale. The art direction and costume design for this film both merited Oscars in 2002 (Luhrman’s most recent film, The Great Gatsby (2013), also won in the same categories, although “Art Direction” was renamed “Production Design” a couple years previously). The Australian director’s distinctive filmic style is perfect for telling a love story as grand, sweeping, and timeless as that of Christian and Satine, the 20th century, French Bohemian versions of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Rating: 5 out of 5 elephant-shaped dressing rooms