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Magic at the Station

Hugo is as unlike a Scorsese film as there has ever been,yet it his most autobiographical.


DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese

CAST: Asa Butterfield,Chloe Grace Moretz,Ben Kingsley,Jude Law,Christopher Lee,Sacha Baron Cohen

Rating: ****1/2

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Hugo is as unlike a Scorsese film as there has ever been,yet it his most autobiographical. The filmmaker who dabbles with themes of loss of innocence,violence,guilt and redemption creates a world away from all this inside the confines of a Paris railway station,and imbues it with breathtaking kindness and warmth. The railway station is but a temporary halt for most,but it’s a place where different worlds meet,distances are bridged,strangers interact,and improbabilities seem possibilities.

It’s “in the walls” of this station that Hugo (Butterfield) lives. Up the stairs and down the steps,on the outside towers or above platforms,in the lobbies and inside rooms,it’s he who keeps the clocks wound. Yet the 10-year-old who notices everything that goes on in a station that’s both chaotic and runs with clock-like precision,himself remains unseen. Nobody is aware that his uncle,originally hired for the job,is dead and that the boy continues his work.

Hugo’s father was a clockmaker too and the boy developed his interest in “fixing things” from him. The father,played by Law,died while the two of them were in the process of repairing a unique “automaton” (a mechanical man),programmed to write. The father left behind a diary of notes as well as the mystery of a missing,heart-shaped key needed to wind up the automaton.

The mystery takes Hugo to toy repairer Georges (Kingsley),who has a shop at the station. Hugo has been watching him fix toys — peering out from his favourite perch behind number four in the clocks — and lately struggling with them. Hugo has also been flicking tools from the shop,a fact Georges isn’t unaware of.

In his attempts to persuade Georges to help him,Hugo meets the latter’s god-daughter Isabella (Moretz),a girl about his age who lives mostly in the world of books and the big words she picks off them. What Isabella desperately seeks is an adventure,something lacking in her regulated life at the residence of the staid,grumpy Georges and his lovely wife.


However,how staid is Georges? Scorsese gradually lets you find out,as a boy who lives within the giant shifting gears of clocks and who clings on to a machine as fervent proof of a magic he has but rarely experienced in his life,meets an old,bitter man who exhibits traces of magic that he won’t acknowledge.

While Isabella is the essential catalyst of that encounter,the film based on a book by Brian Selznick bubbles with characters each of whom finds a new life inside that station,from the grouchy Inspector (Cohen) who lives with a little bit of machine himself in the form of a prosthetic leg,to the flower seller (Emily Mortimer) he fancies; to a tea shop owner and an artist who have been trying to get acquainted for years but for her feisty dog.

There is another dog in the story,the Inspector’s Doberman,named Maximilian,who helps him chase down orphans such as Hugo off the station. Cohen with his hang dog looks,his Gendarmerie cap and his desperately ferocious stare quite resembles his pet when they are both staring down a vent,searching for Hugo.


Christopher Lee plays a bookstore owner who realises that Hugo seeks something he himself can’t put a word to,even as he guides Isabella. When he gifts Hugo Robin Hood,Isabella describes him as a person who likes “sending books to good homes”.

As George’s secret is revealed,Scorsese’s film becomes an ode to the movies and it’s obviously from a man who loves them and has done his bit towards helping restore them. It is evocative of the passion that goes into the movies,the distance these have travelled,the sacrifices made on the way,and the lives the movies have touched and changed. “Dreams are made here,” says one character in Hugo,as he throws open his arms to point out the set around him.

Scorsese,with his judicious use of a cheerful musical score,a cinematographer that bathes his film in illusion through smoke (whether from a steam engine,a fire,or breath on a snowy,Paris evening) with 3D that takes nothing away from the rich palette of his thriving station and with a cast that is comically tragic and tragically comical,doesn’t just make you dream here. He also achieves magic,by letting us see life and experience the wonder as well as ridiculousness of it again through the eyes of two young children.

First published on: 05-05-2012 at 03:54:40 am
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