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Cinetreasure: Moulin Rouge! (2001)


In 1900's, Paris, France, red velvet curtains are lifted to reveal the frenetic, bohemian underworld of the infamous Moulin Rouge where nothing is forbidden and almost everything is possible.


Stars: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo

Rating: PG-13

Evoking all the dramatic grandeur of the Greek, mythic tale of Orpheus, Moulin Rouge! fuses storytelling devices of the stage, the cinema, dance, and music to boldly present a highly stylized, visually charged, entertainment extravaganza.


The over-the-top imagery and rapid-fire editing technique serves to embody the drunken, hallucinatory state one would experience at the Moulin Rouge during its heyday.


In the opening sequence, we transition from spectator in a theatrical setting to the unveiling of a picture screen, to actually moving past the screen and into the world of the film. It all suggests that we will not just passively watch this movie, we will serve as an active participant in the drama.


The technically savvy production design of Catherine Martin brilliantly serves the artistic flair of director Baz Luhrmann (both having partnered previously on Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet).


Although some exterior locations were called for in the making of this movie, all of them were either recreated on a soundstage, or digitally designed on a computer, or physically constructed as old-fashioned miniatures. All three techniques seamlessly combine through the expert editing of Jill Bilcock (Road to Perdition, The Libertine) to present a mesmerizing, pop-up kind of travel book.


The story is largely a retelling of Christian's (played by Ewan McGregor) introduction to the world of the Moulin Rouge where he meets the love of his life, Satine (played by Nicole Kidman).


When we enter into Christian's thoughts, the imagery takes a number of storytelling liberties but when we see Christian pounding away at the keys of a period-specific typewriter in his meager loft, there is less of a romanticized look and more of realistic depiction.


Returning to his thoughts once again, we are treated to some tantalizingly beautiful mirror shots in key moments that remind us we are witnessing only a "reflection" of the truth since the details of the story are provided solely through Christian's idealistic heart and poetic writing style rather than based entirely on fact.


Also note how consistently pervasive is the image of a spinning windmill, literally moving us from one chapter in the characters' lives to another. It harkens back to the 1950's films of Max Ophuls where the image of a circle often reflected a pre-destined, inevitable, immovable structure one would encounter in his/her life.


There are other allusions to filmmaking techniques of the 40's and 50's as well. High-contrast lighting schemes and story-driven dance numbers conjure the spirit of a Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire musical. Ingeniously using modern lyrics to punctuate period spectacle, characters reveal their dreams, fears, and obsessions, and two people fall in love in just a few minutes of screen time, as lovers often did in the musicals of movies past.


It took two years of excruciating work to merge all the storytelling tendencies of classic filmmaking with digital technology to form this Baz Luhrmann-sculpted work of art. All the toiling and passion can be felt scene after scene, providing the perfect balancing act of cartoon-like comedy with operatic tragedy on this roller-coaster ride of a movie.


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