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Aussie fever
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 24 - 07 - 2008


By Lubna Abdel-Aziz
She is without a doubt the Portrait of a Lady (1996) , and hers is a rare breed. She is a picture of perfection, the stunning pride of the Aussies. Nicole Kidman. Fans can hardly wait to see her in another finely tuned performance, polished and profound as she was in The Hours (2004), Cold Mountain (2003), and Moulin Rouge (2001). The highly talented Baz Luhrmann directs her in a romantic action adventure, revolving around their native Australia. They are joined by another prime export from: "down-under" the fabulous Hugh Jackman ( X-Men Trilogy). This Aussie trio is sure to triumph at the box office come November when this sweeping epic is due for release. The story is set in Northern Australia prior to WW-II. The film recounts the adventures of an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) who inherits a large ranch in Australia. When English cattle barons plot to take her land, she joins forces with a rough'n tough cattle driver (Hugh Jackman), and together they drive 2000 heads of cattle across thousands of miles of the country's most unforgiving land, only to face the bombing of the town of Darwin by the Japanese forces that had previously attacked Pearl Harbour.
Once again Baz Luhrmann creates a lavish cinematic experience with the incredible cinematography that thrills the senses, adding immeasurably to the story and the stars. Like a conscientious painter Luhrmann's screen is his canvas on which he meticulously creates a thematic mood in colour and ambiance. He is also a master story teller, and his stories, simple and simply told, resonate with audiences for a long time.
Baz (a nickname given by his Dad) is considered one of the most innovative directors working at the turn of the 21st century. His trio of films Strictly Ballroom (1992), Romeo and Juliet (1996), and Moulin Rouge (2001), adhere to a strict style, dubbed "the Red Curtain." By that, Baz Luhrmann means that the story line is simple and the audience knows how it will end from the very start. Yet they keep watching because of the heightened reality that borders on the fantasy. He blends the emotional and the poetic in ways that appear new and revolutionary.
Although born in Sydney, Luhrmann spent much of his childhood in rural Australia. It was at his father's movie theatre that he first became enthralled by the magic world of make believe. While still in his teens, he decided to pursue a career as an actor. With his good looks it did not take him long to land his first film role alongside Bryan Brown and Judy Davis in Winter of Our Dreams (1981). After watching British director Peter Brooks staging The Mahabarata, and hearing him offer this simple advice: "get out and do something!" he did. He staged a one act, 30 minute piece which he called Strictly Ballroom, and in 1992 he made the jump to the big screen with its film version. It was a box office hit in Australia, and garnered several prestigious awards as well as rave reviews. Hollywood quickly grabbed the talented Aussie. His first production there was Leonardo di Caprio / Claire Danes Romeo and Juliet. The throbbing soundtrack, the attractive cast and the usual razzle dazzle, left audiences begging for more. They got it in Moulin Rouge. We saw the radiant Nicole as we had never seen her before. This large scale musical set at the end of the 19th century was based partly on the Orpheus myth as well as drawing on other familiar sources like Puccini's opera La Boheme. Moulin Rouge helped revitalize the art form of the screen musical. Australia will offer a whole new genre of vast vistas, deserts, rivers and lakes, grazing land for millions of sheep and the incomparable Great Barrier Reef. There is still much to learn about this faraway continent; it keeps growing and it keeps giving.
Land of the out-back and the outdoors, Australia has produced world famous athletes in tennis, golf, swimming and track. Each of Australia's State capitals boasts a permanent company of professional actors, offering a year-long season of classical and modern plays. A little known fact is that Australia is one of the first countries to develop a motion picture industry in 1906, only 3 years after the US. The film industry has a modest output and has produced such international favourites as the Mad Max series and Gallipoli.
Such greats who hail from down under include Dame Judith Evans, Peter Finch, Errol Flynn, not to mention Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett, Russel Crowe (born in New Zealand), Naomi Watts, the regrettable late Heath Ledger, and Hugh Jackman that lovable Wolverine in the X- Men trilogy, and the charming lead in Van Helsing. He is now teamed up with the best jewel of the Aussie crown, Nicole Kidman. From now on the sky's the limit for this Hugh.
As for Nicole, no matter what role she takes on, she is every inch a lady. There are the glamour girls, the femmes fatales, the love goddesses, the baby dolls and the sex kittens, but ladies are rare, on and off the screen. Like Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr, Grace Kelly, and maybe a few others, Kidman combines beauty, talent, charm, and grace, but you are not to mess with her. There is a quality about a true lady, where a line is drawn beyond which no one dares to venture. Donning the robes of pure perfection, she is the stuff that dreams are made of.
Once married to Tom Cruise, she was slighted by his affair with the Spanish beauty Penelope Cruz, which later led to their divorce. Through the ordeal Nicole behaved as the well-mannered lady that she is, although not without humour and a little naughtiness. With an Oscar on her shelf, one that Cruise has not acquired yet, she is always amusing with her tinkling laugh and deprecating humour. She is now married to award-winning, million-selling country singer Karl Urban, who was born in New Zealand, raised in Australia and achieved fame and fortune in the US. With two adopted children with Cruise, she has now given birth to their first baby girl, Sunday Rose Kidman. This much they have in common, Kidman was born in Hawaii, raised in Australia, and also found fame and fortune in Hollywood who brought her to the world's attention, and honoured one of the screen's most gifted actresses and most stunning beauties. For this, we remain eternal grateful.
This earth of majesty, the seat of Mars,
this other Eden -- demi-paradise
-- William Shakespeare (1564 -- 1616)


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