Set in Paris, circa 1900, Moulin Rouge is a dreamlike musical farce of epic proportions. Misunderstandings, mistaken identities and misguided lovers abound as the powers of the decadent Club Moulin Rouge do their mysterious work.
Our story involves Christian, played by Ewan McGregor, Satine, played by Nicole Kidman and a multitude of other turn-of-the-century Children of the Revolution. Christian is a penniless writer, while Satine is a star dancer at the famous Paris nightclub. Thrown together by the most unlikely of circumstances, they attempt to live by the bohemian ideals of Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love, but especially Love.
Our director is the unconventional and usually misunderstood Baz Luhrmann, of Romeo + Juliet fame (infamy?). Luhrmann's approach to directing is equally bohemian, as his style encompasses the very ideals this story holds most dear.
First there is Truth, in that the story is an eternal one of true love. We have, of course, seen this plot before in many films, but never with so much pizzazz. The events unfold not with the music of 1900 France, but the music of the present and recent past, using songs from Marilyn Monroe to Nirvana, with just about every other contemporary style in between. By choosing the most accessible music possible, Luhrmann allows the audience to identify with the film's characters instantaneously. The truth is in the lyrics, and the melodic differences of a hundred years or so mean very little to a story as timeless as that of Moulin Rouge.
Next comes Beauty, and Luhrmann's contrast of ethereal images with garish ones does indeed create a work that is unquestionably beautiful. His visual flair parallels that of the character's personalities and lifestyles, with the innocently childlike Christian, unfettered by wealth or reputation in stark contrast to the, shall we say 'experienced' Satine, who has both fame and fortune seemingly within her grasp. The resulting visuals are exquisitely stunning to behold.
Now, on to Freedom, and if you hadn't already guessed, as director, co-writer and co-producer of Moulin Rouge, it appears that complete artistic freedom has been bestowed upon Baz Luhrmann in directing this film. Continuing his nonconformist ways, Luhrmann delights in his refusal to follow any of the established 'rules' of film direction. Without the constraint of any level-headed person screaming, 'YOU CAN'T DO THAT!', he obliterates rule after rule with wreckless abandon. Luhrmann fills this movie by using flash edits, overexposures, underexposures, increased frame rates, decreased frame rates, dropping frames, reversing the film, over saturating color, completely desaturating color, partially re-colorizing select areas of desaturated color, enlarging small portions of what had originally been frames featuring more than one character, resulting in grainy, sometimes out of focus close-up shots, as well as many other techniques any reputable film school would have aspiring directors avoid at all costs. (Pardon me while I catch my breath...) Luhrmann even has the audacity to shift style from bubbly romantic farce to edgy film-noir in the final act! As for pacing, this film moves at approximately the rate of a speeding bullet train, with many scenes going by so fast that only your subconscious will ever know for sure what actually happened. We're talking total sensory overload at it's most extreme! Normally, committing any one of these cinematic sins would surely doom a film, but strangely enough, these acts of directorial insanity actually work in Moulin Rouge, serving to heighten it's already fantastic, dreamlike qualities.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Love. As stated earlier, the central theme of the film is love, and by using his eccentric palette of techniques, Luhrmann succeeds in creating a movie as mysterious, fascinating, confounding and head-spinning as love itself. Moulin Rouge is often awkward and more often over-the-top, but never strays from it's heartfelt emotion. In the end, it's all in the name of Love, and as we all know, Love is all you need!
So, if you aren't afraid to broaden your horizons, leave Hollywood behind and experience Moulin Rouge.