During an era in which I over-satiated myself watching films and documentaries which deal with unpleasant themes and characters such as existentialism, the apocalypse, zombies, aliens, dystopian universes, power, global warming and man’s devastation of all the earth’s natural resources, I came across a pleasing and heart-warming story.
During an unlucky year, 2013, I watched Martin Scorcese’s Hugo. It turned out to be my favourite film for that year.
Who would have thought that Scorcese, better known for his uber-violent gangster flicks, could make such a delightful, aesthetically pleasing film about children and for children? On a higher level, children’s parents with a taste for art nouveau, will enjoy it as well.
Hugo could just as easily have been a literary work of art. Musically, photographically and characteristically, it exceeded my horizons of expectations. It warmed my heart.
In a previous post on The Boy with Striped Pyjamas I commented on the eerie mysteriousness of Asa Butterfield’s physical screen presence. As Hugo, he is a few years older, showing signs of a mature child prodigy. The first thing I noticed about young Hugo Cabret was the deep ocean-blue pupils of his eyes. My first thought was, “what a beautiful boy.” Through Scorcese’s own genius behind the camera and in the editing room, Asa Butterfield’s features are enhanced to reflect his beauty, innocence and bravery.
Hugo is a feel-good film. It is shown from the point of view of the child protagonist. The story’s plot is good; a hesitant beginning, tense middle and, of course, a happy ending.The film’s cinematography is astounding. And Asa Butterfield is surrounded by a stellar cast of actors – Jude Law, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer, Ray Winstone, Sasha Baron Cohen -who all produce magnanimous performances.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the film with its Oscar for best cinematography. The film reel delivers a painterly texture only observed on gallery walls and within the pages of timeless literary children’s stories such as Madeline. The camera is focused stylistically on the avant-garde side of nineteen-thirties Paris. Beyond the confines of the city’s elegant railway station, surreal glimpses of the city’s landscape and its iconic Eiffel Tower are given.
The camera’s earlier projection of the railway station occurs at break-neck speed, instantaneously inviting its audience to become excited towards trying to anticipate what may happen next for young Hugo Cabret.
Time, or timelessness, is devised as an important theme. It is, therefore, no surprise to find Hugo slaving away as a clock master in the absence of his deceased father and cruel and drunk uncle. Movement is another theme. Georges Melles (Ben Kingsley) turns out to be a pioneer in the forgotten art of film-making.
To my mind, Sacha Baron Cohen, better known for his obscene (but hilarious) performances as Ali G, Borat and Bruno, is one of the movie industry’s most underrated and undervalued actors. Known only as the Station Inspector, he delivers a characteristically humorous performance. Cohen’s dialogue is mesmerising and eloquent in its delivery of a near-perfect French dialect and accent in the English language. His physical, slapstick delivery is effective in treating the youthful audience with a series of laughs. His dual pursuits are one of the film’s highlights. His romantic pursuit of the charming Lisette (Emily Mortimer) and dogged chase after the orphaned Hugo while repressing his own traumatic memories of childhood was both touching and hilarious.
John Logan’s script is a stand-alone feature of Hugo.
Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee) is another important character. Lee does not flinch in his delivery of an austere, but dedicated and kind librarian. Richard Griffith’s cameo as the elderly, romantic dog-lover was also endearing.
In a competitive year at the Oscars in 2012, Scorsese and his crew were richly rewarded. Robert Richardson was awarded for Best Achievement in Cinematography while Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo were rewarded for their art direction. There were also Oscars for Best Achievements in Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects.
My one regret was that I never got to see this magnificent film when it first appeared on the big screen. I have an aversion to crowds, popcorn munchers and rude cellphone phubbers, Nevertheless, I could still enjoy this film on DVD with the aid of good quality surround sound speakers. Owing to my poor hearing, I also had the advantage of a good English sub-titled package, so I did not miss a word that was said.
What more can one add to such artistic brilliance through the medium of film? If you haven’t seen it yet, well I highly recommend that you do. The holidays are just around the corner. Oh, and do gather your children around as well.