Courtesy - The Sunday Leader By Kamal Kalidasa
When an accomplished and critically-acclaimed director gets to pay tribute to one of cinema’s pioneering legends in his own celluloid masterpiece, and bag a few Oscars in the process, the feeling must be incomparable in its unprecedence. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, an ode to French illusionist cum filmmaker-extraordinaire Georges Méliès, is an awe-inspiring, almost-steampunk love letter to a forgotten time and place that saw the birth of science-fiction and fantasy in cinema, at the capable hands of a single creative genius – its Oscar-nod more than justified.
Mild spoilers ahead…
An adaptation of the ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret,’ a novel by children’s author Brian Selznick, Hugo is set in the early 1930s, not too long after the Great War (World War I). A 12-year-old boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is orphaned when his widowed clockmaker father (Jude Law) is killed in a museum-fire, forcing the boy to fend for himself by maintaining the big clocks at the Gare Montparnasse railway station where he now lives. Hugo has no choice but to steal food every day so he does not starve. He lives in the walls of the station, where he has hidden away his prized possession: an old and broken automaton – a kind of wind-up, self-operating human-like machine – his father had once found in a museum.
After the death of his old man, Hugo takes it upon himself to fix the machine; so, the boy risks everything in an attempt to steal gears and other mechanical items required for the operation, from a middle-aged gentlemen (Sir Ben Kingsley) manning a toy-store at the railway station.
But predictably, Hugo is caught red-handed, and his fate is left to the hands of the bumbling yet surgically-creepy Inspector Gustave (Sasha Baron Cohen) who believes it is his God-given duty to rid the station of riff-raf like Hugo and pack them away to the orphanage. Meanwhile, the old gentleman pockets a notebook found in Hugo’s possession, whose pages adorn detailed schematics of the automaton, and coldly refuses to return it to the boy, turning a deaf ear to his pleas. The visibly disturbed man – who we later find out is none other than the late, great Georges Méliès – threatens to burn the notebook unless Hugo renounces his petty-crime ways.
Hugo manages to give the slip to Gustave, and goes in search of the toy-store owner, when he stumbles upon his house, and befriends the man’s Goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz from Kick-Ass). Together, they uncover the secrets of the automaton and its mysterious connection to Georges Méliès, in a journey of discovery that takes us on a nostalgic trip down memory lane, paying homage to many of the classics from the silent era. Particular emphasis is placed on Méliès’ own Voyage to the Moon, whose image of a rocket caught in the eye of the moon became a cultural icon of the 20th century.
Hugo is really a movie about movies, that treats the films of old with a profound respect that borders on veneration. You can hardly blame Scorsese for this, though. He clearly holds these movies which might seem silly and overtly campy to modern audiences, in high regard, as any filmmalker worth his salt should. If it were not for Méliès and his ilk, there might never have been a Star Wars, or 2001, or Jurassic Park, or Matrix.
Sir Ben Kinglsey’s portrayal of Méliès is that of a broken, disillusioned man, who has grown to despise his own creativity, having lost it all during the war, when the whole continet moved on from the fantasy-world of movies, and film itself was used to extract its constituent chemicals for the use of boot-making. Even as Méliès returns the burnt embers of what Hugo believes to be his precious notebook to the tearful boy, you cannot help but empathise with the seemingly cold and cruel old man. And this is only towards the beginning of the movie.
Hugo won the Academy Award for Cinematography just a couple of weeks ago, a recognition richly deserved. Its visual quality is truly outsanding, and nothing short of beautiful. The acting is virtually flawless, from Sir Kinglsey, to Cohen, the delightful cameo from Christopher Lee, all the way to the child actors. Chloë, in particular, shines in a role that could not be more different from her 11-year-old killing machine character of It Girl in Mathew Waughn’s Kick-Ass). Lead-actor Asa is a force to be reckoned with; the boy has a great future ahead of him. There is no doubt the whole world envies him right now – to work with such Hollywood heavyweights at such a young age must be truly overwhelming, but Asa makes it look incredibly easy.
Helen McCory and and Michael Stuhlbarg, too, are refreshingly good in their roles as Méliès’ beautiful wife Jeane d’Alcy, and René Tabard, a film historian who helps the world rediscover Méliès and his magic, respectively. For once, a great, steampunk-inspired almost-genre movie the Acedemy can get behind. The movie is currently being screened at Liberty Lite.
You owe yourself to go see it – definitely one of the better films of 2011.