Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a wonderful picture, full of delightful images and moments and affection for its medium; movies. Scorsese has of course been a bullish leader of the push to preserve movies and Hugo is his dramatized argument. The story is of orphaned boy, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), living inside the walls of a Parisian train station in the 1920’s. He is trying to repair a mysterious automaton that his father (Jude Law) left him before he died. Georges (Ben Kingsley) who owns a toy shop in the station angrily catches Hugo trying to steal one of his toys and discovers the boy’s notebook and is distraught to find drawings of the automaton. Hugo is also pursued by the awkward and kid-hating Security Guard (Sasha Baron Cohen, very funny).
The first part of the movie is dedicated to Hugo and his navigation of the train station and it’s obstacles, as he makes a new friend (Chloe Grace Moretz). This is all a set-up to the reveal that Georges is actually Georges Méliès, the pioneering film director of many of France’s finest silent movies. The first hour is told with the same fluid camera work and easy storytelling that Scorsese has copyrighted for over 4 decades. But it’s in the second half that has real energy. In flashback we get to see Méliès working on his films and the magic of the cinema is brought off. Scorsese has long been explaining things in his movies, from how a pool hustle works, to how mob money gets laundered, coupled with his love of him, his enate ability to teach on the screen makes for some of the most fascinating backstage movie moments ever committed to film. This same technique is applied to despairing means when we learn what Méliès was forced to do with his film stock after falling on hard times.
Hugo is wonderful with enough nostalgia without moving over to into sentimentality. It’s a family film of the highest order.