- Sport : Tradition meets modernism in German Wembley showdown
- Anti-money laundering : Troika distorted ‘dirty money’ findings
- our view : Our View: Anastasiades giving more ammunition to opponents of a...
- attempted murder : Woman stabbed in the back in Ledra Street shop
- Cyprus : Efforts to keep provident fund haircuts as low as possible
- bank of cyprus : Cyprus Today
- Barrosso : Barroso: all available resources mobilised to help Cyprus
- Cyprus : ‘Cyprus now on the energy map’
- Cyprus : DISY deputy tables simple health-care solution
- Ayios Dometios : Packs of stray dogs roaming Green Line
Film review: Hugo ****
Martin Scorsese is big on film preservation. It might seem irrelevant to mention this vis-à-vis Hugo, the great director’s first attempt at a kids’ adventure – but trust me, it isn’t. Scorsese is founder of The Film Foundation, dedicated to protecting old movies, and has often spoken out on the need to preserve, and if possible restore, old and neglected cinema – which is why it’s no coincidence (more like an Author’s Message) that Hugo includes a line like “Time hasn’t been kind to old movies”, or a scene where our young heroes talk about one of the first-ever films, the Lumière Brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, and roll their eyes like 21st-century kids (even though Hugo is set in the 1930s) at those 19th-century bumpkins who thought an actual train was arriving in the theatre. The film’s not-so-hidden agenda is to awaken viewers – especially younger viewers – to the fading glories of movies made before movies could even talk. You half-expect it to end on a public-service announcement (‘It is estimated that 80 per cent of American films made from 1894 to 1930 are now lost…’), directing your pledges of support to silentfilmsareawesome.com.
That didactic side isn’t the film’s best feature – but I share the sentiment, so I didn’t really mind. It also tends to gush about Movie Magic (drinking game for the target audience: down a slug of chocolate milk each time you hear the words ‘film’ and ‘dream’ in the same sentence) – but Hollywood kidpics always come with a message, and I’d rather have Cinema as the Holy Grail than family values or learning to respect diversity or whatever. Above all, the point about preserving cinematic treasures is made through the character of Georges Méliès (a real person, played by Ben Kingsley), once the great magician of the screen, now a superannuated geezer who works as a toy-seller and strives to repress the past. Hugo is the old plot (as old as Pollyanna) of the child whose youthful zest pries open the closed-tight heart of an embittered adult, only now with old, silent movies as the lever. It can be very touching, when done with charm – and Hugo has a great deal of charm.
Hugo (Asa Butterfield, a child with the stillness and big attentive eyes of a young Elijah Wood) lives in a Paris train station, hiding behind the main clock and getting about through a secret maze of vents and corridors, pilfering what he needs to live. Old Georges works at the station, selling toys and turning his fierce gaze on the boy – but even worse is the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who prowls the place with his Doberman, catching orphans and handing them over to the authorities. Hugo’s only ally is Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), Georges’ ward, but the boy also has a secret friend: a half-repaired robot, or automaton, the only tangible memory of his clockmaker father.
Through this whimsical world, Scorsese sows his theme of movie-love. Isabelle is book-mad, and besotted with words – she’ll often pause in mid-sentence then come out with a long word like “reprobate” or “clandestine”, as if to savour their magic – but then Hugo takes her to a movie, Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last, and she sees the light (it’s unclear if her love of books survives). The robot is finally fixed, and begins to write what Hugo hopes will be a message from his dad – but the writing falls apart and instead it starts to draw, sketching a visual clue on which the whole plot pivots. Words turn to images, books into films.
Hugo shows an Art-form being born – and it’s only Art, implies Scorsese, once it starts to appreciate its own past (that’s why film preservation is vital). Some people just don’t get it, like the station inspector – a fascinating character, not really evil (he saves Hugo’s life at one point) but closed-minded, lacking artistic vision. Like Isabelle, he uses big words (“Malediction! Calamity!”) but doesn’t appreciate them, and claims to love poetry but doesn’t really know it. He also has a mechanical leg (an old war injury) but it only causes him pain – unlike the other machines in the movie which teem with possibility, from robots to projectors to movie cameras.
The film is an ode to machines. It seems strange to say so, because the people are so likeable and well-played – Kingsley as the melancholy artist, Helen McCrory as his wife (there’s a lovely scene where she recalls the old days of dressing up as mermaids and skeletons, and seems to shed 20 years before your very eyes), Baron Cohen getting laughs out of every prissy, delightful line reading (“the cows and such, mooing…”), Moretz as the wide-eyed girl, Butterfield as angst-ridden Hugo – yet it’s really about miraculous machines, gears and cogs and wheels whirring and grinding. Which of course brings us to 3D.
Scorsese made the film to showcase 3D, but also to justify 3D – to link it with the past, and proclaim it as the latest chapter in the tale of an Art-form founded on technology. I’m not convinced, to be honest. The extra dimension allows for some cool stunts (objects shoved in your face include snowflakes, cinders, a Doberman’s snout and Baron Cohen’s mug) and foreground/background designs, but it’s never more than surface glitter – not to mention that my 3D glasses were smudged and uncomfortable, so I’d actually have enjoyed the film more in 2D.
Still, it’s a sign of Hugo’s strengths that I fell under its spell despite violently disagreeing with its reason for being. The acting is wonderful, the visuals lavish, the dialogue surprising, the Message unimpeachable (it’s worth mentioning that Méliès’ films screened in Nicosia last June at the Alternative Cinema festival, to an audience of about 20 people). It’s great that Scorsese is so good at preserving films. Fortunately, he’s even better at making them.
DIRECTED BY Martin Scorsese
STARRING Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley
US 2011 126 mins