Baz Luhrmann's over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, sentimental Strictly Ballroom became an unexpected international hit in the mid-'90s, integrating pop tunes and a Rocky formula with the world of ballroom dancing.. Then he mixed up time periods and cultural references for the Leonardo DiCaprio edition of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. These hyperstylish productions were, it seems, just the warm-up. Luhrmann's new film Moulin Rouge is even more outrageous, more musical, and more audaciously sentimental. (Would you like cheese with that musical?)

Plunging us into a half-historical, half-fantasy Paris in 1899, Luhrmann establishes a fairy-tale tone right off the bat. We're introduced to a talented but penniless poet named Christian (Ewan McGregor), a celebrity showgirl named Satine (Nicole Kidman), the greedy and melodramatic manager of the Moulin Rouge nightclub, and a wicked lustful investor known as "The Duke." Christian's talent for song is discovered by the artist Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), who urges him to compose lyrics for a new play that will star Satine and promote the Bohemian subculture creed of "freedom, beauty, truth and love." Christian accepts, and is sent before Satine to have his lyrics approved. It's love at first sight … at least for Christian. He has a nasty rival for Satine's heart—the Duke. Will Satine choose the way of true love, and respond to Christian's poetic overtures? Or will she choose the road to fame and fortune, selling herself to the loathsome Duke, who will then finance the play?

Most critics are bewildered and impressed by Moulin Rouge's adrenaline-rush spectacle. Some like the exaggerated style, which is one part melodrama and two parts Loony Toons. Others complain about a lack ...

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