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'Moulin Rouge' Will Open Cannes Festival

Movies * Baz Luhrmann's musical, starring Nicole Kidman, took almost five years to reach theaters.

March 21, 2001|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Director Baz Luhrmann's lavish musical drama "Moulin Rouge" starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor will have its world premiere as the opening-night selection at this year's Cannes Film Festival on May 9, according to 20th Century Fox, which is distributing the film. "Moulin Rouge" will be screened in competition for the Palme D'Or, the festival's top prize.

Luhrmann has close ties with Cannes; his first film, 1992's "Strictly Ballroom," was selected for a midnight screening at the festival and the reaction was so positive that the independently financed film was scooped up by distributors all over the world and Cannes festival president Gilles Jacob called for an unprecedented second screening the following evening.

It's taken the Australian director almost five years to get "Moulin Rouge" to theaters. Originally scheduled for release last year, the film had a long and involved production and post-production schedule.

"Without an iota of exaggeration this film personally, emotionally and creatively tested me to my outer limit," Luhrmann said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Set in 19th century Paris, "Moulin Rouge" uses contemporary music--everyone from Madonna to Elton John to Nirvana--in telling the tale of a struggling writer (McGregor) who falls in love with a courtesan (Kidman). Luhrmann, who describes the film as a musical comic-tragedy, experimented with historical material and contemporary music with his second film, 1996's "Romeo + Juliet."

After its Cannes premiere, "Moulin Rouge" will officially debut on May 18 in New York and Los Angeles and nationally on June 1.

" 'Moulin Rouge' has taken longer than my other films for two reasons," Luhrmann explained. "The first is that the characters sing, dance and die. Though everyone's shy about using the 'M' word, this is a musical in every sense. The editing process was quite rigorous. . . . There's a reason why musicals are no longer made. They are incredibly complicated."

The second reason was more personal, according to Luhrmann. "It almost parallels the film and is a great example of the old performing adage 'the show must go on.' " Shortly after production began, Luhrmann's father died. Around the same time Kidman's marriage to Tom Cruise was drawing to a close.

Kidman then broke her rib and later tumbled down a flight of stairs during one of the production numbers, seriously damaging her knee. Kidman continued shooting for a time but had to eventually undergo knee surgery. This delayed the end of shooting and Luhrmann finally had to relinquish the sound stages in Australia to another incoming Fox production, the new "Star Wars" film. The final musical number was shot later in Madrid.

Because of her knee injury, Kidman was forced to pull out of the Fox film "The Panic Room," which is directed by David Fincher. The role was taken by Jodie Foster.

Luhrmann said his new film is "basically a retelling of the Orpheus myth," and he noted that another source of inspiration for the filmmaking was the stylized "Bollywood" films from India. "What I thought was amazing about those movies was [the mix of] high comedy, high tragedy and people breaking into musical numbers," he said.

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