Hugo

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Written by Stephanie | Rated: 5 Stars - No Beef, Comedy, Drama | Posted on 03-12-2011

I’m a sentimentalist. I cry at adverts, reality TV shows (a rising string gets me every time) and the worst kinds of romantic comedy. I even cried while waiting in an airport arrivals longue recently, watching some random small children reunited with their grandparents. More often than not, I cry in spite of myself. My cynical side well aware that I am being manipulated and I kind of hate myself for being such a sucker. Around Christmas, this amplifies. Something about the fairy lights and mulled wine I think. I cried through the entirety of a animated version of The Gruffalo one Christmas Day. For the uninitiated, The Gruffalo is NOT The Snowman, nothing sad happens, nothing at all. I couldn’t tell you what the hell I was crying about. I was just overridden by cuteness and booze.  This sort of hollow sentimentality has to hit me in the right mood to get the tears flowing though. A friend and I went to see Love, Actually a few days before Christmas once and spent a large portion of the film wondering what would happen if we started throwing things at the screen (embarrassingly, even that abysmal piece of film-making sucked a couple of tears out of me before I realised what a piece of shit it was).

Occasionally though, a film comes along that works on a whole separate plain. A film that reminds me what it was to be a child and to feel joy and wonder and sadness, all at the same time, of how beautiful the world can be. Hugo is one of those films.

Set in 1930’s Paris, Hugo tells the tale of a young orphan boy who lives inside, and maintains, the mechanical clocks of a train station. The station is a busy and vibrant setting, though as the film opens Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is as alone as anyone has ever been. He doesn’t have any friends or family, and rests his hopes of company on an automaton that his father found at a musuem and that they had been repairing together before the accident that left Hugo alone.

Even though Hugo is alone, he uses his clocks to hide in and observe the other people whose lives revolve around the station and, as the film progresses, their lives begin to interweave. There is Georges (Ben Kingsley), a gruff old man who runs a station toyshop and Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young girl who accompanies him. The unnamed Station Inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen) is Hugo’s nemesis, desperate to catch young orphans, and hopefully the eye of Lisette (Emily Mortimer), a florist. Isabelle is a voracious reader and, through her, we meet Monsieur Labisse (Christoper Lee). Monsieur Labisse runs a book shop and, curiously, for a film set in Paris, is the only character with even a hint of a French accent.

I went into Hugo knowing very little of what the story entailed and, one of the things I loved about it was watching the way the story unfolds. With that in mind, I won’t go into any specifics about where Hugo leads. However, portions of the film (including the opening segment) have a very old school silent film mentality to them. Large swathes of the film contain no dialogue whatsoever, and the physical comedy is as good as any seen in the silent films of the early 20th Century. Sasha Baron Cohen borders on parody with his strange voice, war injury and inability to smile naturally, but he fits like a glove into this landscape. His role could easlily have been a horrible mis-step, but, to my mind, he pitches it perfectly. There is also a ongoing romantic subplot between Madame Emile (Francis de la Tour) and Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths), which involves very little dialouge, and would have played out in a very similar way had this film been made 100 years ago.

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s first “children’s” movie, though I think calling it that does it a great disservice. This is a film for anyone with a heart beating in their chest, a film to savour and adore, whatever age you are. The direction is, as one would expect, fantastic… and the 3D is the best I have seen. My favourite 3D sequence has long been Lionsgate’s mechanical cog introduction (Lionsgate make a lot of horror films, and I love horror films in 3D, so I’ve seen it often). There is something about the cogs in motion that just works wonders in 3D, and Hugo is basically mechanical porn. Mechanics are front and centre here, whether in Hugo’s clocks, Georges’ toys or the automoton that Hugo so desperately wants to work again…. And Scorsese knows how to make them sing, they jump right out the screen at times.

As I say, this isn’t really a children’s film. It’s a film for anyone who knows about loss, and the wonder of experiencing the new. It’s about the pain of war, finding magic in the world around us, and connecting with others, fixing them, so they can help fix us too. I cried and cried and cried, but these weren’t the sort of tears that make me frustrated with how pathetic I am. These were tears of joy, of remembering how a film can remind you of all the wonder and beauty in life.

I went to see Hugo with my Mum, who has the attention span of a gnat when it comes to films. It’s rare that she manages to stay awake through even the shortest and fastest moving of stories. Hugo is over two hours long and takes its sweet time with its story at every single turn, yet she stayed awake through the whole thing, and professed to loving it when it finished. Though her first reaction, open the rolling of the credits was to look at me with a rather surprised expression and say ‘Steph! Nobody even walked out!’…. Frankly, if THAT isn’t a recommendation, then I don’t know what is.