There are films that are about romance, and then there are films that are romantic. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is one such film. The boy, girl love story in the film is not the romance I speak of, rather it is the romance of a filmmaker who is totally in love with the medium.
Scorsese has always pushed himself as a filmmaker, trying his hand at genres and techniques he had yet to perfect. The announcement of Hugo led many to wonder why Scorsese, a true cinematic master, would be spending his time with a 3D family film. The answer is in the film itself.
Based on the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, Scorsese’s first attempt at a family film feels less like a film for kids and more like a film for anyone who loves cinema. Taking place largely in a 1930s Paris train station, the film follows the titular Hugo Cabret, played by new-comer Asa Butterfield, as he tries to discover the secret behind the wind-up figure left to him by his now deceased father. It is this plot description that left many wondering what fascinated Scorsese about the material, and the awful marketing did nothing to help audiences figure out this mystery.
Scorsese’s Hugo is a film about the importance of film preservation and not forgetting the past, no matter what medium it is. Focussing on the early days of cinema and the films of Georges Melies– played wonderfully by Ben Kingsley–Scorsese reaches us with a beautiful mystery told through the eyes of children. The true story of the film is hard to market, and that is why you must discover the film the way it was meant to be seen, in 3D and on the big screen.
The performances in the film are, across the board, simply spectacular. Butterfield shows that he is a star in the making, with a naturalism that is almost impossible to find in children. However, it is Ben Kingsley who gives the stand-out performance. Too often Kingsley is found in films undeserving of his talent, and with Hugo we can finally welcome back the performer we all love.
From a technical standpoint, the 3D is breathtaking and easily the best example of the tool so far. However, Scorsese did not use 3D just as a challenge, but also as a way to help tell the story. It was a conscious decision to use the latest cinematic tool to tell a story about the earliest examples of film. It is hard to understand the importance until you see in 3D a scene in which film goers watch a 2D film in front of you. The 2D is striking, and breathtaking in its own way.
While it is clear Scorsese has never fallen out of love with cinema, as he may be the most passionate filmmaker working, it is also incredible to see a filmmaker celebrate the medium with such wonderment as he does with Hugo. The film will remind even the most jaded film fan of the magic cinema can hold, as it both creates this magic and celebrates it.
It has been a long time since a film has celebrated cinema with such romance and love, and Scorsese was clearly the man for the job. It is my hope it will drive some to begin their own journey through cinema, beginning with Melies, and moving to Chaplin, Wilder, Ford, Welles, Bergman, Hitchcock, Fellini, Truffaut, Malick, Herzog, and maybe even back to Scorsese. Hugo has proven already with many jaded critics, that it can rejuvenate one’s love for cinema, I am willing to bet it will spark newfound love as well.