A French kiss of a film, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo enfolds its cinematic heart in a bittersweet quest for redemption. It seems that the feisty film director still remembers what it was to be a child, and to believe in artistic magic with a child’s appetite for adventure and delight.
Astonishingly, Hugo is filmed in non-gratuitous 3D that actually moves the film along its kinetic tracks.
The atmosphere of Paris between the wars is exuberantly painted right down to steaming cafe au lait and seamed stockings. The child of the title, (played by Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives high atop a train station tower where he daily sets the intricate clockworks.Watching the bustling world below from his perch behind the face of the station clock, young Hugo mourns the loss of his father (Jude Law), a clock maker and engineer who left the boy an unfinished mechanical figure as a legacy.
Hugo, himself an eager mechanical tinkerer, undertakes the completion of this project. Thanks to parts pilfered from the repair shop of an eccentric gentleman (played by Ben Kingsley) Hugo has almost restored the mysterious figure when his finds that he needs one missing part—a heart-shaped key. Hugo follows the boy’s mischievous and often dangerous mission to complete this restoration, aided by a new young friend Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) and simultaneously chased down by the station’s implacable gendarme, played with comic restraint by Sasha Baron Cohen.
While the first parts of Hugo move predictably through chases and misadventures, it’s the second half that truly catches fire. When the character played by Ben Kingsley turns out to be none other than silent film pioneer Georges Méliès, and we find ourselves utterly transfixed by Scorsese’s re-imagining of just how those early films were made. The ending is, as Méliès puts it, “the place where dreams are born.” And, since this is Scorsese, the film is laced with references to famous moments from past silent films—big fun for cinema buffs.
Scorsese’s labor of love gives us new eyes for the great artform of our time. Famous for his devotion to the art and science of filmmaking—and film restoration—Scorsese has taken his fierce affection to new heights. Hugo is a story of loss and discovery, and of personal salvation. But most of all it is a sparkling reminder to adults overwhelmed with the busy frenzy of their lives, to make time for the rewards of cinematic magic.
The opening scene alone, one long winding visual dazzlement from the top of the clocktower looking over all of Paris, deep into the wrought iron stairway labyrinths of the station itself, is a tour de force. But the ending is even better.
Hugo, based on Brian Selznick’s bestseller The Invention of Hugo Cabret, will ultimately leave you in happy tears. Just what all fine movies should be able to do.