Cannes delivers dazzling cinematic effects
"I've always liked creative movies, but isn't this one a little too creative?"Skip to next paragraph
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A friend posed that ironic question after viewing a French art film recently, and at this year's Cannes filmfest, it applies just as well to two American pictures.
You've never seen more striking technical wizardry than the camera tricks and editing-room magic that zip through some of the most talked-about movies here. But you can't help wondering if the wit and warmth of old-time Hollywood are getting a bit lost in the shuffle.
"Moulin Rouge" is a cascade of ingenious cinematic effects that are more about dazzling your eyes than touching your heart. "Shrek," one of very few animated films ever to receive high billing here, combines cutting-edge cartooning with smart-alecky storytelling and gross-out humor. Both are self-aware efforts to reinvent old Hollywood genres - the Hollywood musical in "Moulin Rouge," the animated cartoon in "Shrek."
There's no denying how strenuously they chase after their goals, or how many new-fangled methods the filmmakers have put into play. But in the end, the most tried-and-true elements of these ambitious movies - Nicole Kidman's vivacity, Paul McCartney's lyrics, Mike Myers's vocal skills, the endless resonance of fairy-tale adventure - may play the most important part in whatever popularity they achieve.
Of the two movies, which had their world premieres here, Moulin Rouge may have the biggest box-office challenge when it reaches American theaters beginning today.
Kidman is stunning - so what's new? - and Ewan McGregor is enough of a heartthrob to fill the celluloid shoes of Tom Cruise and others who've partnered her in the past. But director Baz Luhrmann surrounds them with so much cinematic whoop-de-do that you can't help wondering if he lacks confidence in their charisma.
Set near Paris just over a century ago, the story centers on two classic characters. Kidman plays Satine, a can-can dancer who dreams of being an actress. McGregor plays Christian, a poet who journeys to the unconventional precincts of Montmartre's most notorious nightclub - much as Orpheus traveled to the underworld in the ancient Greek myth that partly inspired this movie.
Complicating their love affair is a wealthy duke (Richard Roxburgh), who ensnares Satine with help from an ambitious impresario (Jim Broadbent) who's greedy for cash so he can steer the Moulin Rouge - and its star dancer - toward the world of high culture instead of low entertainment. Also on hand is John Leguizamo as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the diminutive painter and unseen manipulator of France's tumultuous avant-garde scene.
This material could have motion-picturized in countless different ways - as sensitive drama, over-the-top-melodrama, old-fashioned musical, high-stepping comedy, or outright farce. The approach chosen by Luhrmann can only be described as postmodern pastiche, using "postmodern" according to the simplest of its many definitions: "anything goes."
Indeed, it's hard to think of a mainstream movie in which so many things do go, sometimes blending into an inventive stream of toe-tapping diversion, other times having head-on collisions that make you think the screen might literally explode. The setting is Europe in 1899; the style is MTV in 2001. The story is rooted in timeless myth, and the dialogue is jammed with 21st-century wisecracks. Capable actors like McGregor and Broadbent delve into the depths of their characters - as much as the frenetic script allows - while Luhrmann's lenses fracture their performances into kaleidoscopic bits and pieces.