It was midway through the Moulin Rouge press conference at Cannes that I put down my pen in exasperation. None of the actors-Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor,John Leguizamo were offering much that was revelatory, and the director, Baz Luhrmann, point man for the production, seemed, well, sort of middle-brow dumb. I was squandering my afternoon on a movie I didn't warm up to in the first place: all that frantic hyper-editing, destroying the integrity of virtually every dance number. Where is Jean Renoir's masterly, Moulin Rouge-set film, French CanCan, to show the way?
Aussie Luhrmann made his reputation with back-to-back smashes, Strictly Ballroom and William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. At Cannes, he'd graduated to Theories, faux intellectual ones, about how Moulin Rouge is an Orphic saga (bosh!) and how his three pictures qualify as (his coined term) "Red Curtain Dramas," which "take place in a heightened creative world, where the audience is kept aware it is watching a movie. It's a contract, and when someone breaks out in song, 'I love you, I love you,' the audience is at ease."
Brecht, Luhrmann isn't. Anyway, nine tenths of the journalists squeezed into the Cannes conference didn't give a hoot about the Moulin Rouge filmmaker's aesthetic philosophy. They were there to see if Nicole Kidman would slip up and say something about her divorce from Tom Cruise. And what of the rumors that she was involved with her costar, McGregor, and (even lower), that her miscarried child had been McGregor's?
A Canadian film critic tried a slippery trick: "Miss Kidman, I'm not going to ask you about your personal life" at this point, he was hissed by the hypocritical gathered "but you must feel very passionate about this film to want to come out in public and get behind it."
Kidman: "Obviously it's my choice not to have questions about my personal life. Thank you for not asking." Yes, she did feel a need to support Moulin Rouge because of inherent difficulties with promoting it: "The public isn't saying, 'This is what we want to see, a musical,' and you can't describe Moulin Rouge in the necessary two sentences." And she feels passionate about her long-time Sydney, Australia, pal, Luhrmann: "He's been an actor and he loves actors. You feel an enormous sense of devotion. You feel safe and you say,'I'm willing to take time with this guy,' . . .Baz is my angel"
Her director returned the compliment: "A long time ago, Nicole and I did this shoot together for Vogue. We met for lunch, and she was funny, gangly, raucous." Luhrmann offered that his greatest pleasure is to be part of the process by which an actor stretches, discovering sides to a talent which never had been revealed. Contemplating Kidman: "She has this beautiful iconic image. But for Moulin Rouge, why not let the craziness come out?"
Hello, Baz! Kidman's craziness has already come out-and in much more inspired ways than Moulin Rouge-- with the loopy rendition of murderer Pam Smart in To Die For.
(And one Cannes question tossed to co-star John Leguizamo: how did get cast as the diminutive Toulouse-Lautrec? "There was a two-hour audition on my knees," the actor said. "That's how I usually get my parts.")