This has been on my watchlist for some time, but when AFI announced yesterday that this would be its second installment in their ongoing AFI Movie Club (thanks, COVID-19) I decided to join in the fun.
And what fun it was! Director Baz Luhrmann is known for describing an experience he had at a cinema in India, watching a Bollywood film, as being the inspiration for Moulin Rouge!—the combination of “the lowest possible comedy and then incredible drama and tragedy and then break out in songs.” It’s a form we’re not accustomed to so much in the west, where most stories, including musicals, follow a general dramatic structure that can be simplified into rising action, climax, and falling action.
Told as a flashback, the story takes place in 1899, when a young poet, Christian (Ewan McGregor), accidentally falls in with an acting troupe trying to make it big with an original show. Their goal is to sell the show, Spectacular Spectacular, to the owner of the Moulin Rouge, a Parisian cabaret across the street.
Upon a visit to the Moulin Rouge, the star of the cabaret, Satine (Nicole Kidman) mistakes Christian for the Duke of Monroth, a potential investor, and dances the night away with him. Thus begins their covert love affair, as Satine is supposed to marry the duke as part of a deal with the club’s owner.
The lavishness of Moulin Rouge! is striking, from the musical numbers to the sets to the Academy Award-winning costumes. But what might be most interesting is the choice of music. Unlike most musicals, there is only one original song in the entire film; all the other musical numbers are remixes of popular, modern songs—far ahead of the film’s 1899 setting.
All in all, it’s a dazzling film that truly is a spectacular spectacular.