Director: Baz Luhrmann
Here you have a 19th century Paris bordello-cum-nightclub transformed into a modern pop cultural wonderland, and then made to form the subject and the backdrop of a western love story with oriental situations. How would you react to a movie in which a crane shot extends bafflingly into a flycam track and where the gags remind you constantly of old Shammi Kapoor movies? The initial response is to let it sweep you off your feet. The treatment, of course, has nothing to do with the pretensions of the period — turn-of-the- century European prostitutes are called 'courtesans' who sing Diamonds are a girl's best friends and Elton John's Your Song.
The story is deliberately cliched—a "woman who sells herself" (Nicole Kidman) falls in love with a penniless artist (Ewan McGregor) who, in turn, is writing a play aimed at turning the underworld courtesan into a real stage artiste for which she has to sleep with a slimy banker. But the plot is just an excuse for Baz Luhrmann to experiment with the possibilities of the '21st century musical'. In this still-evolving world (the musical in Hollywood is almost a dead species), the linear song-situation-song formula is replaced by a kaleidoscopic song-song-song-situation-situation-song extravaganza. Sequences undergo some crazy inter-cutting, reminiscent of the underground rock-pop movies. Satire, pun, Brechtian exaggeration and alienation effect as well are all interwoven in the text. The takes on the classic 'mistaken identity' situation have Kidman faking the pre-orgasmic ritual before a perplexed McGregor. The courtesan's 'sparkling diamond' sophisticated facade comes crashing down in the face of this comic eroticism. The farcical-yet-believable irony is compounded further when McGregor sings love songs to the wanton prostitute dying of a fatal disease like a conventional, respectable love story heroine.
But most of these possibilities are exhausted in the first half-an-hour of the movie. You are then reminded that it is still the kind of Hollywood cinema unable to depart completely from the mush of the old musical. Which, however, because of the initial assault, looks superficial and worn out. This then, comes through as Luhrmann's greatest problem: the failure to embellish the post-modishness of his style with a new attitude. Why couldn't Kidman actually land up in India or be cured miraculously of her illness with a remote-controlled cam flying around her face?