12/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

NYT "Australia" Review: "Demented... Diverting... Kitsch"

Baz Luhrmann's continent-size epic, "Australia," isn't the greatest story ever -- it's several dozen of the greatest stories ever told, "The African Queen," "Gone With the Wind" and "Once Upon a Time in the West" included. A pastiche of genres and references wrapped up -- though, more often than not, whipped up -- into one demented and generally diverting horse-galloping, cattle-stampeding, camera-swooping, music-swelling, mood-altering widescreen package, this creation story about modern Australia is a testament to movie love at its most devout, cinematic spectacle at its most extreme, and kitsch as an act of aesthetic communion.

Mr. Luhrmann's use of culturally degraded forms both here and in earlier films like "Moulin Rouge" doesn't register as either a conceptual strategy or a cynical commercial ploy or some combination of the two, as it can with art world jesters like Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, who have appropriated kitsch as a (more or less) legitimate postmodern strategy. Instead it feels -- feeling being paramount in all of Mr. Luhrmann's films -- like a sincere cry from the swelling, throbbing heart, a true expression of self. And while that self and its gaudy work may be stitched together from the bits and pieces of pop culture -- the son of a movie-theater owner, Mr. Luhrmann grew up worshiping at the altar of Hollywood -- they are also wholly sincere.

Sincere, if also sometimes confused and confusing: though there is no denying the scope and towering ambition of "Australia," which was largely shot on location in the outback, it can be difficult to gauge Mr. Luhrmann's intentions, or rather his level of self-awareness.

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