Wide-eyed plucky young orphans, French stereotypes, and Sacha Baron Cohen slapstick: it can only be Scorsese’s new film, says JAMIE MATHIESON.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Last year I lived in a house on Castle Street. It was built into the hill, so that the kitchen was just below street level. If you looked up, you would see legs shuffling past, lots of bikes, pushchairs, and children. Being at just the right level, and casting their eyes around, the kids could see down into our kitchen.
They would usually be a little startled to find a secret house full of students that they could see but their parents couldn’t, and when we smiled or waved at them they would usually smile back, in a vaguely confused way. Confused, but hopefully slightly happier.
I definitely left Hugo confused, but slightly happier, and I think most people, including the younger ones, would probably feel the same way. It’s a lovely film about an orphan boy and an orphan girl who are at an age where she has suddenly become much taller and he is a little bemused by it. It’s set in a Paris of accordions and berets and snow and Gothic statues. Vintage Paris.
And for the first hour, Hugo is just really odd.
Lovely, but odd. The lines between real/unreal and past/present are left blurred, and to this disorienting mix one of the most effective uses of 3D I’ve ever seen is added. The film is dreamlike and genuinely magical, as a film about dreams and magic should be. It’s the way kids see the world.
Much of the action is filmed from the child’s perspective (at a height of about 4’10”), so long and swooping tracking shots make everything seem even more vivid. The world of Hugo really seems like a big one, and the viewer cannot help but be swept along. It’s extraordinarily ambitious, as you’d expect from the director of Raging Bull making a kiddie Christmas film.
For a start, it has a lot of big words. One of our children is a well-read little girl who says things like ‘circumlocution’ and ‘panache.’ But sadly she also says ‘mad’ instead of ‘angry,’ and ‘it’s not done,’ instead of ‘it’s not finished.’ Slips like this jolt us right out of 1930s Paris and put us straight back into an LA talent agency for kids.
Hugo‘s two hour running time makes it quite long and quite slow. The comic relief provided by Sacha Baron Cohen and a bizarre range of British thesps (Christopher Lee, Frances de la Tour and Emily Mortimer) is lacklustre. Martin Scorsese certainly does not agree with the rule of never working with animals or children: the film relies heavily on both.
But Hugo is never boring, because for those two hours you’re in the world of children, seeing things from their eyes, being frustrated by the secrets kept by the adults and bemused by the idea that they have pasts and emotions too.
It’s not fair. I don’t understand. You don’t understand. Where do dreams come from? Are machines alive? Will Sacha Baron Cohen please stop falling over the whole time? Hugo is a great kids’ film because, for two hours, it made me want to be a child again.