Re:View – ‘Hugo’

London, The Arts


Martin Scorsese’s new family film in 3D is a wonder on every level, and there are a lot of levels to be navigated. It isn’t really for children but for the children we might wish to have, literate, smart, kind, healing – I imagine a lot of middle-class English families will be dragging their kids to this. But even at an unusual length, there’s no drag factor because old-fashioned storytelling on a grand (station) scale grips the attention.

In between the wars, Hugo lives parent-free (a worrying recurrence in children’s fantasies) inside the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. He’s repairing the mechanical man that holds memories of his clockmaker father (Jude Law), but Hugo needs the heart-shaped key that will start it – and the plot. The key is around the neck of a little girl whose surly, embittered grandfather (Ben Kingsly) caught Hugo stealing. Clearly, if the key starts the man, it will also reveal the grandfather’s secret past, which involves the birth of cinema…

The keyword here is ‘watch’, as Hugo studies the station’s shop-owners and passengers from behind his ticking clock face with a film-maker’s eye, and eventually experiences (as we do) the wonders of early cinema. We live in a chronomony where time is money, and time invested here repays itself over and over, as the layers compound to create a clever, beautifully allusive passion-note to the art of movie-making. It’s no surprise to see Scorsese himself on screen behind a hand-cranked camera, because this is his story of falling in love with images.

There’s a richness to films shot in English studios, from the astonishing production design to the wonderful character acting – Frances De La Tour, Richard Griffiths and Christopher Lee particularly stand out, as does Sacha-Baron Cohen attempting to smile for a girl and failing horribly in the villainous role of an war-injured gendarme armed with a Doberman, on the lookout for orphans to lock up.

The 3D is exemplary and more necessary than usual, as the camera tracks along crowded platforms or plummets in vertiginous falls through the whirring clock tower. There’s also a welcome emphasis on language and its uses, and the time it takes to uncover truths. Is it for ADD-afflicted modern children? Some will certainly respond, but there’s no point in taking anyone who loved the Transformers movies. It all unfurls at a graceful metronomic pace, and yet is utterly absorbing, a rewarding work of great charm and a labour of love. Scorsese has made a film for the child in everyone.

NB Avoid the trailer, which shows too much and has rock music slathered over it. And for a film about language, the bombastic poster line is tautological rubbish.

3 comments on “Re:View – ‘Hugo’”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Caught a glimpse of the trailer the other night, but just out of the corner of my eye, so I should be able to avoid it now I’m warned. Looking forward to it. Perhaps people who suffer from attacks of vertigo shouldn’t see this?

  2. Vickie Farrar says:

    I read Brian Selnick’s “Hugo Cabret” book when it was first published in 2007 (FABULOUS) — and once I heard a movie was being made, I’ve been on tenterhooks awaiting the release. The film just opened in the U.S. today and is on the top of my To Do list. I am VERY pleased to see your enthusiastic review/opinion.

    And, FYI, if any of you are lurking in the kids’ section of a bookshop, check out Selznick’s latest, “Wonderstruck” — absolutely as delightful as “Hugo.”

  3. stonemuse says:

    Watched this last night … absolutely wonderful

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