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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 18, 2001

Movie Scene
At the Movies: 'Moulin Rouge'

By David Germain
AP Movie Writer

A 20th Century Fox release, "Moulin Rouge" was co-written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, with production design by Luhrmann's wife, Catherine Martin. The movie is rated PG-13 for sexual content. Running time: 125 minutes.
A dizzying, breathtaking achievement, Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" flips the movie musical on its head and sends it spinning into a wonderland that makes Alice's adventures seem pedestrian.

The pyrotechnics of "Moulin Rouge" are a breathless assault on the senses. Set in an underworld where physical laws don't apply, the film twists time and space, perspective and proportion, to its own ends.

On one level, the movie is the most elaborate and original music video ever made. On another, the film is a simple story of love and loss cloaked in garish splendor.

This is not a descendant of the happy, sappy musicals of yesteryear. The movie is laced with chirpy comedy and absurd machinations, but it's ultimately a tragedy.

Set in 1899 Paris, the film is a variation of the Orpheus myth starring Nicole Kidman as the belle of the lusty Moulin Rouge nightclub and Ewan McGregor as an idealistic writer who journeys into this bohemian abyss to find love.

The film originally was scheduled for release late last year, but Luhrmann ("William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet") needed more time. No wonder, considering the complex post-production required for the film's effects and vibrant colors.

Luhrmann combines sets, costumes, visual effects, motion and music into a movie experience that's worthwhile if only because it's so audaciously different, even if you're part of the sizable moviegoing audience unable in this day and age to tolerate characters bursting into song.

There's the rub. "Moulin Rouge" requires big upfront concessions from the audience, not only to accept the conceit of century-ago Parisians belting out modern pop tunes, but also to buy into Luhrmann's anything-and-everything-goes cinematic style.

They're concessions many won't make. "Moulin Rouge" had a mixed reception when it opened this year's Cannes Film Festival.

It's not as divisive a musical as last year's "Dancer in the Dark." But while the whimsy of "Moulin Rouge" will hook many enthusiasts, the movie will find plenty of detractors who'll find its pretensions too, well, pretentious.

Kidman plays Satine, a woman for whom prostitution and performance are a way of life. Satine is introduced in a radiant rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," with a snippet of Madonna's "Material Girl."

The film fuses songs that span the 20th century, from cancan to "The Sound of Music" to the jazz standard "Nature Boy" to U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)."

The writer, Christian (McGregor), takes Elton John's corny "Your Song" as his love theme, with Placido Domingo singing backup as the voice of the smiley-faced moon. Jose Feliciano adds vocals to a slow tango of Sting's "Roxanne." Vocals for a cover of LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" come from Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink.

The chief supporting players Ò Jim Broadbent as the club's proprietor, John Leguizamo as Toulouse-Lautrec and Richard Roxburgh as a sniveling villain Ò bring charming humor to their own numbers.

This show belongs to Kidman and McGregor, though. Fairy-tale romance is never terribly deep or real, but Kidman and McGregor connect in ways that make credible the notion of falling in love over a song, at least within the context of Luhrmann's fantasy world.

And it is an exhilarating fantasy world. Not one that everybody will want to spend time in, but if nothing else, Luhrmann's fancifully skewed alternate reality shows just how sit-up-and-take-notice interesting movies can look.