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Issue 02, Volume 01

HUGO: The Invention of Dreams

by Theo Zenou

The name Martin Scorsese is a synonym for gangsters and mad men in a gritty New York. But ever since his career’s inception, Scorsese has explored other worlds and summoned different influences: the glossy M-G-M musical with New York, New York (1977), the Eastern film with Kundun (1997) or Jacques Tourneur film noir with Shutter Island (2010). The range is unprecedented and it illustrates Scorsese’s visceral and timeless connection to film, his raison de vivre. But until now, the master picturemaker has never given us a story whose very subject matter is cinema itself, and how it can magically conjure up dreams, emotions, and redemption.

When filmmakers give us a “meta” movie—a film about films—children often become the beating heart of the tale, whether in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1989) or J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 this past summer. Cinema appeals to the kid in us all: the kid who thrives on imagination and endlessly, faithfully searches for meaning in escapism and fiction. Scorsese agrees.

Hugo follows the life of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a young orphan living in the walls of a train terminal in 1930s Paris. Abandoned by his uncle following his father’s death, Hugo secretly rewinds the station’s clocks and survives by stealing. But he is not alone. His father left him a broken automaton, found in the archives of a museum. Hugo puts all of his efforts into fixing this robot so it can tell Hugo a message, which Hugo believes will be from his father. As Hugo tries to crack this mystery, he embarks on an even greater adventure with the help of Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of the station’s toyshop owner Georges (Sir Ben Kingsley). Together, Hugo & Isabelle discover the magic of the movies in Georges’ secret past.

Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan (The Aviator, The Last Samurai) adapted Brian Selznick’s children book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and have made an elegant, sophisticated, yet simple tale. More than an homage to early silent-filmmaking or a call for film preservation, Hugo is above all an emotional picture. Scorsese shows the world as one giant machine, like a clock, an automaton, or a movie camera, in which all of us have a part to play. Ultimately, the characters in Hugo are trying to bond with each other, and Scorsese depicts both their humorous and dramatic interactions with equal sensitivity.

A lot of big ideas, support and criticism have been thrown at 3D in the last few years. Is it a gimmick? Does it even make a difference? Although James Cameron pushed 3D into the 21st century with Avatar, 3D wasn’t born yesterday, so why the fuss now? Since it emerged in the 1950s 3D has often been considered a pulp device to entertain and shock, but Scorsese pushes it even further and uses it as a narrative device: although set in the past, Hugo is about the wonder of technology. 3D is only beginning to fulfill its potential – just like cinema in Hugo. The burlesque comedy of the chase scenes between the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Hugo—evoking the slapstick of Jacques Tati—is a master class not only in blocking but also in blocking for 3D.

Alongside Mean Streets (1973) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Hugo is one of Scorsese’s most personal narrative films. It is a celebration of life, and it truly makes us believe we have the potential to create dreams. One can’t help but wonder if, when he grows up, Hugo Cabret will become a moviemaker himself. And who knows? Maybe he will become Martin Scorsese.

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by John Logan; produced by Graham King, Timothy Headington, Martin Scorsese and Johnny Depp; cinematography by Robert Richardson; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; distributed by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 128 min. With: Asa Butterfield (Hugo Cabret), Ben Kingsley (Georges Méliès), Chloê Grace Moretz (Isabelle), Sacha Baron Cohen (Inspector Gustav), Ray Winstone (Claude Cabret), Jude Law (Hugo’s Father), Emily Mortimer (Lisette), Christopher Lee (Monsieur Labisse), Helen McCrory (Mama Jeanne), Michael Stuhlbarg (Rene Tabard), Frances de la Tour (Madame Emile), Richard Griffiths (Monsieur Frick).


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