Hugo — the art of storytelling

Instead of simply critiquing a film a week, Maisa and I intend to write a small ‘weekly movie insight’—introducing films from the more distant as well as recent past. Maisa will be able to tell more about auteurs and films in the context of film history, and during the next weeks we will introduce an array of films according to specific themes. We welcome you to the magical and rich world of movies!

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As the opening of the weekly Friday movie feature I’m going to write about Hugoa film about the power of storytelling. It is truly a homage to film history, through the eyes of acclaimed director Martin Scorsese. At first sight Hugo seems like an adventure story reminiscent of Charles Dickens or The Chronicles of Narnia. Clearly in making Hugo, Scorsese has visited his childhood memories, as the film contains some parallels to his youth in Little Italy, New York:

As a boy, he had asthma and couldn’t play sports or do any activities with other kids and so his parents and his older brother would often take him to movie theaters; it was at this stage in his life that he developed passion for cinema.

Set in the 1930s, Paris, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives secretly in the clock tower of a bustling train station, keeping the clocks running. We follow him through the station as he snatches a croissant from the market, dashing through crowds of travelers with a fierce Station Inspector (Sascha Baron Cohen) and his dog at his heels. Located in the sprawling network of the train station is a small movie theater, which Hugo sneaks into whenever he can get away with it.

One of the key threads of the storyline concerns a broken automaton, which Hugo’s father (Jude Law) was trying to fix before his accidental death. Hugo is determined to find out the message locked within it, in a way to fulfill his father’s dream. He meets Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) and together they begin to unravel the mystifying connection between the automaton and the toy shop owner Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). An adventure is inescapable!

As it tuns out, the gruff Georges Méliès wasn’t always a toy shop owner. Here is where the story delves into the dawn of film history; the viewer is lead through the luminous discovery of the art of filmmaking, back to the days of the Lumière brothers. The character of Méliès is based on a real person; a French illusionist and filmmaker, who by applying his skills as an illusionist innovated the use of special effects in cinemahe was one of the first to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography and hand-painted color in his films. During the flashbacks of the early days of Méliès’ career, among others we catch a glimpse of one of his most famous films: Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), 1902. It is no wonder he was referred to as a ‘cinemagician’, for the wonderous surreal worlds he created were unique, visionary.

I wonder what it might have been like to see one of Méliès’ films as a child in those days? The way in which we view films has certainly transformed. Perhaps it’s partly because of this that Hugo is veiled with a feeling of nostalgia, not only of how cinema used to be, but also of the dreams and adventures one might have had as a child. A well-woven story, where the acting and visual storytelling flow naturally and captivate one’s imaginationtranscending the momentthat’s what makes cinema magical.

To conclude this feature on Hugo, I will leave you with a quote which captures the essence of what the film is all about:

Georges Méliès: My friends, I address you all tonight as you truly are; wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, magicians… Come and dream with me.

  1. alice mai said:

    thank you anne for starting our movie feature with such an lovely article!

  2. Anne said:

    It’s a pleasure, I’m so glad to be on the team of contributors! ♥

  3. Lisa said:

    I really enjoyed reading this, Anne! You have a sensitive and articulate style and it will be a pleasure to read more of these posts in the future, too! You write well.

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