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Beauty in the Movies: Moulin Rouge!

After visiting Paris last week and walking past the infamous nightclub on a daily basis I haven’t been able to get this film out of my head. Add that to the suggestion for Beauty in the Movies by Sarah a couple of weeks ago in the comments and I knew I had to feature Baz Luhrmann’s uniquely beautiful movie-musical Moulin Rouge! as my film this week.


When young idealist writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) comes to the Monmartre section of Paris during the turn of the last century, he is seeking a bohemian adventure of truth, beauty, freedom and most of all love. What he finds however is a vagabond group of performers producing a show for Harold Zidler’s (Jim Broadbent) brothel/nightclub—The Moulin Rouge. Among the troupe is Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) who is greatly impressed by Christian’s talents and begs him to help pen their new show, Spectacular Spectacular. After resisting his father’s voice in his head warning him of the evils of the bohemian lifestyle, Christian agrees to sign on as the new writer.

The following evening at the Moulin Rouge, due to a dance of mistaken identity Christian meets the star of the club, Satine (Nicole Kidman), who believes he is in fact a wealthy Duke. But while Satine has been entertaining and falling in love with the penniless writer, she has unknowingly neglected the Duke who also happens to be the Moulin’s biggest investor. After a good deal of singing and dancing Satine finally manages to dupe the Duke (Richard Roxburgh) into believing he is the object of her desire and convinces him to fund the new play by the brilliant young writer Christian—the man she actually loves, thus setting up a doomed love triangle. Unfortunately the Duke holds the deeds to the Moulin Rouge and if she refuses to sleep with him on opening night he will surely close the nightclub leaving Satine, Zidler and the rest of the performers with nothing. So, what’s a girl to do?

What I find interesting about the character of Satine is that she is essentially an object to all those around her. She is even given the nickname “The Sparkling Diamond”, a thing of beauty to be bought, rather than a living woman. The Duke, Zidler, the men at the Moulin, and even Christian to an extent think of her as a thing to be had and kept, fought over and won, rather than a woman who can make her own choices. Ultimately the cruel joke is on her admirers because unlike a diamond she is fragile and in the end, nothing more than mortal. If those who claimed to love her had spent less time battling to posses her they might have realized she was already owned by a far graver master.

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to the art direction in this film, I will use the word glorious because this is a rare situation where it seems fully appropriate. Catherine Martin acted as art director and designed the gorgeous costumes as well, she won well-deserved Academy Awards on both counts. Martin also happens to be Baz Luhrmann’s wife, obviously the two make an incredible pair and I hope they make many more movies together.

Whoever had the idea to make a movie-musical using pieces of songs from bands as diverse as The Beatles and Nirvana was absolutely brilliant. Not only is it entertaining to hear songs we’re all familiar with used in different ways, but by mixing them together the pieces are recreated in to something new and in many cases create something better than the original. Personally I’ve never been a big Elton John fan, but I’ve had the Moulin Rouge! version of “Your Song” in my itunes rotation for years and love every second of it—and not just because it’s sung by the incredibly adorable Ewan McGregor.

Everything about this film is over the top, the saturated colors the elaborate sets and the boisterous acting, so you would think it wouldn’t be able to pack an emotional punch, but somehow it does. The film starts off with pure insanity, the camera ducks and zooms to the point of dizziness, the characters at times seem unruly and strange, shouting, laughing and buzzing with pure energy. As the film progresses it appears to slow, the juxtaposition of bawdy with serious only makes the emotion that much more jarring. By the showstopping finale, time has seemingly stopped and the audience is left with a heartbreaking conclusion that seems shocking despite the warning of impending doom given in the first few minutes of the film.

Moulin Rouge! is a movie-musical, but it’s very unlike any other musical out there. While it’s over the top and theatrical it doesn’t have the hokey feeling often found in Broadway shows—I’m not knocking Broadway, just pointing out what a feat it is to create a musical that deviates so far from the standard. Moulin Rougue! is a film with everything that can be enjoyed by everyone. If you’ve already seen it, with the extravagant sets and performances, there is always something new to discover the next time you watch it.

Beauty in the Movies: Moulin Rouge!

Beauty in the Movies: Moulin Rouge! by justinez on Polyvore.com

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Beauty in Paris

I’ve been MIA the past week, partially because I was out of the country and partially because I picked up a nasty bug on my travels and have been mostly laying in bed and whining about it since. Sadly, I haven’t pulled it together to do beauty in the movies this week. I promise a return to posting next week, but for now please accept some pictures from our trip to Paris instead.

A stolen picture of the art nouveau rooms at the Musée d’Orsay. I want to live in these rooms.

The Two Windmills Cafe, just like in the movie—no sign of Amelie though.

The view from our hotel, the Montmartre cemetery, it might be creepy to some, but the dead make for quiet neighbors and it’s actually a very beautiful graveyard.

Lots of black cats to watch too.

We were in the red light district which means there were tons of sex shops.

The Eiffel Tower is quite the phallic symbol.

The beautiful St. Pierre De Montmartre, the site of the equally gorgeous wedding which was the real reason for our trip.

A peek into a storage room at the Louvre.

The ridiculous hubbub around the Mona Lisa—with so many insanely gorgeous paintings it seems unfair that she gets all the attention.

We were right around the corner from the Moulin Rouge, unfortunately we could not afford the two hundred euro to see the show.

Thankfully they weren’t in need of our business though, as you can see by the massive line outside on Valentine’s day.

Our own Valentine’s day party—macaroons, champagne, and Paris, what more could we ask for?

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Beauty in the Movies: Amélie

One week from today I will be on my way to Paris for a wedding in Montmartre, so in honor of my upcoming trip (and my desire to immerse myself in French things to prepare) this week for Beauty in the Movies I’m taking you all on a trip to Paris with me, in the adorably quirky French film, Amélie.

When Amélie (Audrey Tautou) was a child, her mother’s sudden death left her to be raised by her emotionally distant father (Rufus). As a result of her solitude she withdrew into a world of imagination. In her early twenties Amélie leaves home to work as a waitress at The Two Windmills Café in Montmartre. When she accidentally finds a tin treasure box hidden by a child in her apartment in the 1950s, she resolves to return the box of memories to its owner. Her quest, and subsequent success, lead her to find small ways to improve the lives of those around her (and maybe punish those who deserve it) in amusing and endearing ways.

Amélie is surrounded by eclectic and overblown characters, but while she knows them all well, she has trouble relating to them. In the café where she works there is Madame Suzanne (Claire Maurier) a former circus performer, Georgette (Isabelle Nanty) a neurotic hypochondriac, failed author Hipolito (Artus de Penguern), amateur healer Gina (Clotilde Mollet) and her jealous, obsessive ex-boyfriend, Joseph (Dominique Pinon). Even the characters who are only on screen for a short time give great performances and contribute a great deal of humor to the film.

There is no shortage of unusual characters in Amélie’s apartment building either, there is a patronizing grocer and his imaginative, one-armed, assistant Lucien (Jamel Debbouze), a miserable lovelorn landlady Mary Wallace (Yolande Moreau), and Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), whose bones are as fragile as glass preventing him from ever leaving his home. Amélie and Monsieur Dufayel form a bond, but she resents that he sees through her and he accuses her of using good deeds as a way to avoid making actual connections with others. As someone who physically can’t get out and enjoy the world, Monsieur Dufayel wants to make sure Amélie doesn’t let life pass her by.

Despite being a “feel-good” movie, Amélie is essentially about loneliness. Not the way we often see it in romantic comedies, it’s not related to the protagonist wanting romance, it’s about her wanting to connect with someone—anyone, and not knowing how. Amélie may have a social anxiety disorder, but whatever it is that causes her to live in her own world, it’s something most of us have felt at times and it can be difficult to break out of. She deals with her struggle by bringing happiness to others in order to take part in their lives in some way, even if they never know she is responsible. In her role as guardian angel, she stumbles upon Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), another dreamer whose unusual interests tend to alienate him from others. Unfortunately, when two people are lost in their own fantasies, it’s hard to get them together. I guess you’ll have to watch the film to see if they ever figure it out.

Probably the most well know of Amélie’s antics is the jet-setting gnome who sets off on a journey around the world sending snapshots back to his utterly confused owner, Amélie’s reclusive father. Until I started researching this post, I had no idea that the “traveling gnome” prank actually started in Australia in the 1980s, I always thought it started with Amélie, I guess you learn something new everyday!

The look and the feel of this film is simply gorgeous, the saturated colors, the richness of the scenery, the attention to detail, everything is handled with an immense amount of care. The score, by composer Yann Tiersen is incredible, it fits the mood of the film perfectly and also makes for great background (or foreground) music, I highly recommend it. This film fits together so nicely, there isn’t a poor actor,  a clumsy section of dialogue, or a stitch of pretension, it’s a modern-day fable, or dare I say it a fairy-tale. It may be light-hearted and often very funny, but it also makes you want to appreciate life in every detail.

Amélie exists in its own world, highly stylized, maybe a bit idealized, but grounded enough that you feel deeply for the characters and the world they inhabit. It would be easy for a movie with such offbeat characters to go over the top, but the core of the story is about people interacting in a very human, even simple, way. At times the gestures Amélie makes to cheer others are very in-depth, but sometimes they’re incredibly small, and often that’s all it takes to put a spring in someone’s step. After watching Amélie you may not be moved to launch a strategy to improve your neighbors lives, but you might just stop and take a closer look at everything around you, all the strangeness of the world, and be surprised at the beauty you find there.

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