Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

There's a two-fold qualification on my recommendation of this film.  The first is that you have to be okay with musicals.  If you're one of those people who has a fundamental issue with the form, then you should stay far, far away.

The second qualification is that you have to be on board with a movie that's unashamedly emotionally manipulative.

Actually, scratch that.  "Manipulative" suggest some kind of subtlety, and there's none to be found here.  Moulin Rouge! attempts to assault your emotions like a charging rhino.  Of course, depending on your psychological make-up, its assault might miss you completely.  I'm in large part in the "miss" category myself (for reasons we will get to later), but there were quite a few people in tears when I saw it at the cinema, back in '01.

So the film opens with Christian, an aspiring writer in Paris in 1899, who falls in with a group of Bohemian actors.  They persuade him to pitch his work to Satine, the most beautiful courtesan in all Paris - and also the star attraction of the Moulin Rouge dance hall.

Through a comedy of errors, when Satine meets Christian, she believes him to be a wealthy Duke whom she hopes will fund the production of a spectacular stage show, and allow her to become a "real" actress.  The mistake does get cleared up, but not before the two of them have become utterly smitten with each other.

Thus, if you will forgive the expression, the stage is set.  Satine and Christian must keep their romance a secret while working together on the play that the real Duke is financing.  Of course, ol' Dukey expects a little quid pro quo from Satine for all the money he's providing, which complicates matters.  Oh, and there is the minor issue that Satine is dying of tuberculosis.

A little research indicates that director Baz Luhrmann drew inspiration from the lavish, unrestrained productions of Bollywood, which makes a lot of sense.  Moulin Rouge! is drenched in opulent colour, rife with rambunctious musical numbers, and - as noted previously - thunderously uninhibited in its attempts to provoke an emotional response.

I expect most people will either love or hate this film, though I'm oddly kind of in the middle on it.  I have no issue with musicals, nor with crude emotional manipulation in a film (at least, not when it is done so openly), but I found that some of the details of the romance threw off my enjoyment a little.  Specifically, I feel a bit uncomfortable about Christian's persistence in the face of Satine's attempts to deny or end their relationship.  While in the context of the film it's clear that she wants him as much as he does her, it reminds me that in the real world there are men who attempt to browbeat women into accepting dates with them, even though the woman doesn't really want to.  So I found that a bit off-putting.

If you're not put off by any of the above though, then you should definitely give the film a try.

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