Back to the Reviews On The Side Homepage Reviews On The Side
In this episode: Moulin Rouge | De La Guarda
Moulin Amour

NOTE: This review was written almost a week ago, right after I saw the movie. I held off posting it, partially because I was on my way to Paramus, New Jersey to wow execs of Toys 'R' Us with a splashy marketing presentation for the upcoming Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs DVD. Which meant I had no time. Mostly, though, the review was fairly personal, and tainted with what might be—no, would definitely be—considered a skewed viewpoint.

Back now from The Garden State—which it truly is, much to my surprise—I have re-read the review, and instead of trashing it and writing a more level-headed, impersonal essay, I've decided to post it anyway. Like the fool I am.

Movies are always viewed through eyes tainted with personal bias. If I had to write this for a publication of some kind, I wouldn't have the benefit of revealing my personal reasons for liking or disliking a movie. The "science" of reviewing would have to take precedence. But since this is my own space, and I have no editors hanging over me, threatening to withhold a paycheck (paltry though it would probably be), I can do weird and unconventional things like this. I have that luxury. Of course, you have the luxury of reading it and rolling your eyes, reviewing my review through your own taint of personal bias. Unfortunately, since it's on your computer screen, you won't get the tactile satisfaction of crumpling it up into a ball and tossing it into your real-life trash can, making the tie-breaking basket that takes the Lakers to victory.

Little Moulin

You're all sick by now of hearing about my personal life via my reviews. I know it. I can tell. You all stand there at the edge of the punch table, holding your flimsy plastic cups with both hands and nodding toward me with your foreheads lowered while small amoebas of silvery light sweep across your faces from the disco ball hanging over the dance floor no one's using. Poor guy. Why does he have to share his pain with us? Can't he just say, "The movie was a whiz-bang, action packed entertainment. I'm just tickled pink that I liked it so very, very much!"?

Well, then I'd just be another Leonard Maltin or Gene Shalit or Jeff Craig or, God forbid, David Manning. And, boy, wouldn't that be dull? I assure you, it would be. And the punch would taste half as sweet.

Call it a mistake to sit in a movie whose theme is "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return" next to the person you've been attempting to convince yourself you're over but who you're apparently not, next to the person you've been trying very hard to forgive but whose emotional game stabbed more deeply than even you thought. Oops. Stupid me. What was I thinking? It shouldn't really matter now, should it? It shouldn't—it doesn't—matter what the circumstances are or were or who did what and why. The healing process is well under way, and the forgiving will come. What's left now are raw, honest emotions, and dealing with those as they unexpectedly arise. Like during a movie about love.

Oops. Stupid Me. What was I thinking?

Moulin Rouge is, at its heart, a simple movie about true love's triumph over all else, and it turned out to be a bit much for me to deal with, considering the aforementioned company. In love-cynical times—and this time in my life no doubt treads with spider legs on that thin fiber between cynicism and optimism—such a movie would be considered ridiculously hokey and simplistic. No doubt there are plenty of people who've seen this movie that think that very thing. Love is simple, though, in its purest, so with a flamboyant delicacy, Moulin Rouge pushes the teetering totter toward optimism.

Baz Luhrmann brings the same kinetic, ADD kind of attention (I know, that doesn't make sense) that he did to his modern-day telling of Romeo and Juliet. The theme is similar here, where two lovers find they are not "allowed" to be together thanks to the blueprints others have drafted for them. Moulin Rouge is much more daring than Romeo + Juliet, thanks to its original story. It is skillfully choreographed, a jumble that is, in fact, perfectly pieced together. The film is Crispix: Period piece on one side, modern movie on the other. And—here it comes—they both stay crispy in milk. [Drum-Drum-Cymbal!] The mix of film styles, the editing, the colors and art design and everything are all superb. It's unapologetically artistic. Bohemian, I suppose, which is intentional. If that weren't enough, it's a God-damned MUSICAL.

Baz has made a musical, where the characters break into song and forward the story through lyrics. Though the movie is set in the Paris of 1899, he's chosen to use modern music from many eras. There's The Beatles and U2 and Rodgers and Hammerstein and Madonna and David Bowie and Nirvana. It's a weird spectacle at first, and like Romeo + Juliet, it takes a little while to get used to. After that happens, you fall for the movie. This could definitely be considered the artsy-fartsy cousin to Shrek and A Knight's Tale, both of which also use modern music in an "ancient" setting. Those two movies can't touch this. (I haven't seen A Knight's Tale, but I doubt it's in the same league as Moulin Rouge.)

The characters in Moulin Rouge are classics, meaning they are cliché with class. Ewan McGregor, as the attractive, humble, and intelligent Christian, and Nicole Kidman, as the beautiful, independent, and determined Satine, root the movie to the center, making their characters' romance believable. The entire cast, including John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, and Richard Roxburgh, gets plenty of opportunity to behave in a grossly over-the-top manner, which brings to the film a scent of the silent movie era. There are deeply moving dramatic moments, both spoken and sung, and ridiculous lunatic comedic moments, complete with cartoon sounds. Baz went shopping at a movie rummage sale, grabbed what he liked in the bargain bins, and threw it all together, creating not a hodgepodge piece of junk, but an honestly unique film. It's chaotic and wild and bizarre, but it works. I'm tickled pink that I liked it so very, very much.

Even if it was painful for me.

Moulin Rouge, for me and my thousands of grains of salt, made me realize something. It made me realize that, like Christain, I'm not stupid for thinking love is something worth wanting. I'm not even stupid for crying over it walking to my car after the movie, despite what I tell myself in my head. I don't enjoy these attacks of hurt, but feeling the hurt makes me aware that I have emotions in the first place. Raw, honest emotions. It's a kind of proof that I did something right though the relationship ended. That I didn't cower from the opportunity I had in front of me. That I gave everything I could. Such residual emotions wouldn't be happening otherwise. If I didn't feel anything and just bounced back, well, then I wasn't really in a promising relationship, now, was I? The "tragedy" is validity.

There's tragedy in Moulin Rouge (a fact that is given away at the beginning, so don't get surly with me about spoiling it for you). The tragedy doesn't make love less desirable, however. Why do we gravitate toward the tragic love story? Why does part of us wish we could live it? Because love is honest and true and real. Honesty is rare in the world, and real love is honest while being dangerous. The trust that comes with love can be torn in a second, changing love to sadness or anger. It's like the doll my sister had when she was little. You'd twist this little knob thingy on the top of the doll's (plastic) hood, and the baby's face would change from happy to crying to angry. Twist love's little thingy the wrong way and it hurts you. And a lot more than any baby doll could. (Would those of you whose minds have wandered thanks to the phrase "twist love's little thingy" please all just reel yourselves back in now? Thank you.)

Love is a fucking pain in the ass when it gets messed up. That's not what we try for, though. It's that happy-faced one we're wanting, and holy jumping Jesus on a hot buttered bun if it's not the friggin' happiest little baby doll face you've ever seen once you find it.

Yeah, I've been hurt pretty bad, but I'm tough. I'll get over it. I'll throw you into the punch bowl, though, if you think I've given up hope. "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return." Moulin Rouge is a brash, loud, messy-looking fiasco of a movie. How better to celebrate the beauty and the pain of love?


To Top of Page


De La Guarda

On a much, much more upbeat note, I just have to say what a pleasure it was to see De La Guarda in New York City. That's not the airport. It's a show. Kind of. It's very hard to describe. It is definitely in the same spirit as Moulin Rouge. It's kinetic, loud, colorful, bohemian, and original. I felt like seeing Moulin again after De La Guarda; they'd make a perfect double feature.

After the Paramus experience, I took the train into NYC on Saturday. I got to see my friend Catherine, and she suggested we see this show.

Basically, it's this: People hooked to cables flying around over your head. The show starts mysteriously in a blank room with lights and shadows and various little items like small rubber toys and marbles and balloons being silhouetted on the paper ceiling. Then a few of the performers crash through the paper, like they're being born. They speak either gibberish or Spanish. Maybe it's some of both, I don't know. All this happens while you stand with hundreds of other people, in a herd, no seats, looking overhead.

Finally, the paper gets torn away, and the performers swing around, individually and in clumps, above you to the sound of drum-heavy music. The guys wear suits and ties, the women wear skirts. It's surreal, but lively and fun. There are different segments to the show, some with people running or clawing their way up a rubber wall, some where the performers are on platforms among the audience, water pouring down on them and you. At one point, one of the men, now naked except his cable harness, grabs people from the audience and they go flying overhead with him. There's also a mini-rave-like dance where the performers and audience dance together in the puddles of water and mushy paper (formerly the ceiling).

It had been raining in the city all day, so I was already wet, and getting splashed by the water during the show was no problem. And since the performers are always interacting with the audience, it's fun when one of them comes up to you to engage you in a gibberish conversation, a faux-erotic hug, or a gibberish "sing-along" with a wireless microphone.

If you're ever in New York (or Las Vegas or London), go see this show! It's an indescribably cool and different experience, and certainly engages your mind and body more than something like, oh, what's that musical about lions? Anyway, it's great. Go go go!




To Top of Page


Buy Videos and DVDs at
Buy Videos at


©2001 Steven Lekowicz except
Moulin Rouge artwork TM & ©2001 Fox and its related enteties.