John Huston (director)
BFI Film (studio)
18 November 2019 (released)
29 November 2019
At the center of this lavish British production stands tormented artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the various characters who inspired his world-famous sketches and paintings.
The film, whose storyline spans ten years (1890-1900), describes the diverse characters of the Montmatre with whom Lautrec (José Ferrer) comes into contact throughout his career, but also of his loneliness due to his physical deformation (he was just 142 cm tall as his legs did not grow following a fall from a flight from stairs, although the real Lautrec suffered from various genetic disorders which caused the fracture of his femurs). The action begins in the famous Parisian dance hall Moulin Rouge with fiery Can-Can numbers, cat-fights and artist Lautred soaking up the feverish atmosphere. Among his acquaintences is Moulin Rouge star Jane Avril (who was immortalized by Lautrec in his famous paintings) – one of the most popular stars performing at the club and here portrayed by Zsa Zsa Gabor. Although the real Avril was a famed Can-Can dancer, Gabor is merely singing.
During one of his nightly outings, Lautred encounters local prostitute Marie Charlet (Colette Marchand), it is an encounter that ends in an unhappy obessesion for Lautrec who initially is blind to the fact that Marie only accepts his gifts but then stays out all night. After a fight he kicks her out and it is then that she finally realises how much he loves her. As a gesture of remorse she vows to love him back, later she changes her mind again and coldly remarks that due to his short statue he will never win the love of a real woman. He asks her to leave again and this time round he refuses to take her back. Lonelier than ever and disillusioned, he throws himself into his work and also starts drinking too much. Some time later he bumps into her while she is in an intoxicated state, she eventually reveals that she only ever pretended to like him knowing full well he would be supporting her financially… though of course she never told him she has a boyfriend. Humiliated and realising that most likely no woman will ever love him, he returns to his lodgings and intends on committing suicide. However, a last minute change of mind inspires him to carry on with his work and instead of dying he finishes his Moulin Rouge poster. This leads to a creative high during which Lautrec not only produces a massive volume of work but one particular poster – depicting a female dancer with exposed legs - leads to instant notoriety, translate as fame. Suddenly, the patrons of the Moulin Rouge no longer concsist just of low-life individuals and bohemians but high society happily mingles too. Although things go well for Lautrec on a professional level, his next encounter with another woman, Myriamme Hyam (Suzanne Flon) ends in heartbreak as well, though it is fair to say that Myriamme treats Lautrec with a lot more respect than Marie Charlet ever did. His alcohol addiction increases and Lautrec is brought back to his studio, with doctors trying to turn his habit around while he suffers from delirium tremens, hallucinating about cockroaches (luckily this can only be heard, not seen!). Desperately trying to fight off the cockroaches he hurries out of his room and – just like in this childhood, falls down a flight of stairs… Now back in his family home and lying on his deathbed, his devastated father informs his son that he is the first living artist whose work is shown in the Louvre. This prompts Lautrec to hallucinate once more, abeit not about cockroaches but phantasmal characters from his old Moulin Rouge days, including various dancers and Jane Avril who all bid their imagined farewells.
Supporting roles see Peter Cushing as Marcel de la Voisier, Christopher Lee as Georges Seurat and Eric Pohlman as Picard. Oswald Morris' glorious cinematography makes the bohemian quarter of Montmartre appear colorful and splendid, and the music was written by French composer Georges Auric and lyricist William Engvick. Josè Ferrer delivers a tour-de-force performance a Lautred and his physical transformation was achieved with the help of platforms, concealed pits and clever camera angles.
MOULIN ROUGE is newly restored and available in Dual Format. Bonus material includes silent archive footage of rare early silent films, animated cartoons, the animated 6 min short ‘Lautrec’ and illustrated info booklet.