Scorsese patting himself on the back
Hugo is another visual delight in 3D where real and computer generated imagery magically blend to intensify to the extreme the passive experience of observing. The slightest and tiniest of details -the glow of the snow at night, a pendulum’s timeless movement or the ethereal aura of a steam train- become a visual experience when seen through the magnifying glass of 3D animation. I can feel my restless eyes, exercising tirelessly, scene by scene, avidly devouring a meal of stimulai that feels both heavy and delicious. This being such a pleasure for my senses, me being so sensory satisfied, I may even let go of some of my very basic demands at a theatre; those about the storyline and the characters. Reading other reviews and looking at the starry status Hugo already has, I would say quite a few of us are relaxing our standards when tamed with 3D treats.
Another of Hugo’s main assets is its excellent cast, although their performances are sometimes dimmed by excessively melodramatic direction. Asa Butterfield gifts the hero with his powerful big blue eyes, so expressive that they almost feel unnatural. Chloë Grace Moretz is Isabelle, his energetic, adventurous and only friend. Both unquestionably talented, they tend to abuse affected facial expressions following a ‘frown, lip-biting, exhale’ ritual in most of their dialogue. At some point, the dramatic tension can be measured by the warm atmosphere created through the simultaneous exhaling of a number of characters. The slow pace of the dialogue intensifies this melodramatic effect. As if actors followed the rule of internally counting ‘1-1000, 2-1000’, time that feels too long elapses between one line and the next and, very rarely, one character speaks over the other, preventing the dialogue from living up to the dynamism of the animation.
Ben Kingsley has the presence, the voice and the manners of ‘the actor’, a quality seal for any film, and his intrinsic photogenic quality seems even enhanced by the beauty of Hugo’s cinematography. Kingsley’s chiseled face, a facade that was always meant to be photographed, even manages in his sixties to rival some of the most powerful close-ups of the angelic principal actor. Another actor that deserves special mention is Sacha Baron Cohen in his role as the ruthless policeman that chases orphans in the train station. Apparently annoying, intrusive and heartless, the station inspector provides some of the most comic and moving moments thanks to his longing passion for the florist and his wounds from the war (both his leg and his pride). Awakening in the audience laughs, smiles and compassion, the inspector is along with the automaton the most beautiful toy Hugo has to fix.
Fortunately, the trailer keeps the secret of what Hugo will unveil, multiplying the joy of finding out that Martin Scorsese’s ultimate goal was to pay a tribute to the pioneers of film making. So there’s no mystery. There’s no hidden adventure or groundbreaking truth behind the things Hugo wants to understand. It’s more of a jack-in-the-box for those cinema lovers that brought their children to the movies; a homage to the industry he belongs to, to the old, silent, black and white films that showed the art and the magic of the cinematographer to the world. In a moving ‘cinema paradiso’ frenzy, Scorsese indulges himself inserting a mini-documentary showcasing life and work of Georges Méliès, reviving scenes in the memory of all those that have enjoyed the classics.
The true mystery -‘why is Scorsese directing a movie for children?’- has been solved. Scorsese wanted to step away from his most characteristic style of crime, blood and violence, to ingratiate with the wider audience by thanking himself and his predecessors for making our dreams come true. Fair enough.