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Heroes of the Zeroes: Moulin Rouge!

by on July 26, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Moulin Rouge!”
Rated PG-13

“Moulin Rouge’s!” first 20 minutes are so violently spastic, you might instinctively scramble for a bit to wedge between its gnashing teeth. They’re also borderline unwatchable, with the moment of overkill arriving at a mash-up of “Lady Marmalade,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the can-can.

If not Ritalin, director Baz Luhrmann at least slipped 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!” a mickey, and it settled into grand, imaginatively anachronistic entertainment. Call it musical “melodramopera” — small fires of ecstasy’s exhilaration and fate’s cruel hand billowed into an emotional barnburner with influences spanning Bowie, Broadway, Bollywood and even the ballet of “La Bayadere.”

Nicole Kidman is Satine, a tuberculosis-stricken Parisian courtesan in 1900, and Ewan McGregor is Christian, a writer to whom Satine is a muse and secret lover. Meanwhile, Richard Roxburgh’s rodent-like Duke conspires to buy Satine’s affections.

True, mad, deep impulses of infatuation scorch across “Moulin’s” synapses, and this absinthe-dipped extravaganza’s joy eventually becomes contagious.

Irrepressible impresario Zidler (Jim Broadbent) performs “Like a Virgin,” updating Luther Billis’s “South Pacific” comic relief. Sawdust kicks up during a melancholy tango-tempo version of the Police’s “Roxanne.”

As in “Australia,” Luhrmann coaxes not only a pulse from Kidman, but a sense of humor. McGregor’s swaggering voice is the stuff of goosebumps, and “Come What May,” his big-ticket ballad with Kidman, is breathtaking.

“Moulin” operates with both the precision and crazy adornments of a cuckoo clock, and what could’ve been a migraine becomes a film so visceral and enchanting that even the man in the moon sings out.