The only handheld moment I remember from Moulin Rouge, as Christian (Ewan McGregor) sneaks away with Satine (Nicole Kidman), cuckolding the Duke even if the latter if a few feet away. Naughty!
This movie’s whimsy and surrealism in covering late 20th century pop songs in contrast with Paris almost a century ago is a precedent to Ryan Murphy’s surreal abomination known as “Glee.” I understand people who don’t like this movie, as Michael koresky called it ‘porno garbage‘ in context of a review of the Hardwicke-Seyfried Red Riding Hood movie. I admit, I sometimes hate parts of this movie too. Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent – he won an Oscar in the same year for Iris. I haven’t seen that, but I’m sure he should have won for this movie instead.) singing ‘Like a Virgin,’ or a ‘Roxanne’ in tango. In the end of the day, it didn’t matter whether the cast had the perfect voice, since they were auto-tuned just like pop stars and TV musical stars after them. But their gilded backgrounds help us dive into the film’s craziness, and as Christian belts out lyrics like ‘we can be lovers’ or ‘we can be heroes’ with an innocent enthusiasm and Satine, like us, can’t help but sing along.
I also believe this movie is created to venerate Kidman’s face, especially since this is her at her prime. Possibly the last time she’ll look immortal. Her emotions when Satine denies her affection for Christian, only to sing his loving words to him later. It’s really difficult to stamp any role of hers to be her best, giving something different here as she does with the naturalism of Grace in Dogville or the sincere upper-class pathos of Becca Corbett in Rabbit Hole. The first word that comes to mind is seduction, when Satine gets our attention by singing the words straight and looking directly at the camera with her big eyes. She doesn’t, however, shy away from the histrionic side of attracting men like Christian and the Duke, with high-pitched whispers for comic effect. Or when her game stops and has to tell Christian the truth, tearing up when necessary.
Also, when I was watching this, her face only has colour three times, when she’s adjusting her make-up, on top of the elephant singing along with Christian or when she’s trying to ward him off. She tells Christian that the Duke has given her everything, and anyone would have taken her word for it unless it’s someone as resilient as Christian. The rest of the time, the blue light makes her seem like an unreachable Parisian geisha, her wintry beauty under the evening blue light already foreshadows her tragedy.
This part seems like I’m over thinking this movie, but there’s also something interesting about her showstopper of a number, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ a song she sings in two versions. During both times, she’s practically dressed in diamonds, shining as they hug her body. I’m not sure what director Baz Luhrmann’s intentions are, but using the song inadvertently puts Satine with Marilyn Monroe, the rest of the characters depend on the woman’s intelligence but none of them point that quality out. They both commit to their fictional selves. Their health and career are vulnerable and precarious, their broken hearts hindering them from moving on.
Let me now talk about the multicultural references in this movie include Switzerland, India and Spain (or arguably Argentina). I’m still figuring out the fictional turn of the century Parisian’s fascination with what’s outside them, letting pieces of the world in through Expos and caged zoo exhibits and, in the case of this film, cabaret shows. And the ‘legitimate theatre’ of the last act. The film also dedicates some time to show Christian, Harold, Lautrec (John Leguziamo) and the rest of the crew making sets and backdrops, rehearsing intricately elaborate dance numbers, looking just as fabulous as the finished product.
There are also some intermissions, when the bearded Christian is alone, when the titular Moulin Rouge is barren, its red curtains no longer blushing like a youthful face. The fictional world of the Moulin Rouge at its peak is still vivid and magical even if once in a while, we remember that it all has ended.