Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Historical drama

Availability: Netflix, Prime Video 

Plot: Director Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo is based on Brian Selznick’s 2007 book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Both are quite extraordinary. Set in Paris in the early 1930s, the film follows the adventures of Hugo, a young boy whose father dies leaving him alone to fend for himself. His uncle is a drunkard who keeps the clocks working at Montparnasse railway station. Rescuing Hugo, he takes him back to where he lives, a hidden place behind the station’s massive clock face. There, while drinking himself into oblivion, he teaches Hugo how to keep good time and maintain the clocks. Hugo has inherited a talent for fixing things from his father, and when his uncle fails to return to the station one day, he takes over the job. Living secretly behind the clock he observes busy Parisian life below. Having no means of support Hugo gets by stealing food from the station carts and cafés. He evades the grasp of Inspector Gustav Dasté of the station police, who is determined to catch itinerant children and bundle them off to the local orphanage. But Hugo’s precarious existence is only part of this complex story. It is also an adventure to discover the origins of cinema, and soon Hugo is drawn into the magical lives of the people who created the world’s first moving pictures. 

Cast: Asa Butterfield is cast as Hugo, but it’s his friend Isabelle, played by Chloë Grace Moretz who delightfully steals the scenes. Ben Kingsley puts in a good performance as the toy merchant who variously challenges and supports Hugo, but it’s Sacha Baron Cohen who shines. His portrayal  as the awkward Inspector Gustav Dasté provides a good deal of the fun, momentum and even a bit of romance in the film. 

Filming and Setting: Hugo is a joyful film with a most spectacular opening scene that takes us on an aero-gliding journey across snow-dusted Paris, and then descends into the inner workings of the Montparnasse station. In a masterclass of filmmaking, the camerawork is thrilling as it accelerates toward a pair of eyes that peek out from behind the face of the platform clock. It’s Hugo watching the people of the station begin their day. Rich and beautifully filmed, each frame is a visual theatrical treat. While the first half of the film is based on Hugo’s story, as the plot develops the focus changes and Scorsese tells us the story of the origins of filmmaking – the Lumière brothers who put on the first show in 1895, and Georges Méliès who saw the show and was inspired to become one of the most prolific and famous filmmakers of the time.

Personal Comments: This time last year, I searched for the least worst Christmas film I could find to celebrate the season. In the end I went for the shortest ( This year, instead, I chose an enchanting film that families would enjoy at this time of year. Hugo is a tribute to early filmmakers who used the rudimentary technology that was available to them to entrance audiences and who went on to establish the movie industry. If you are a film aficionado you will love it.

6 Replies to “Hugo”

  1. Loved this film – the clock is a real star and if I recall correctly there is a sequence in the wonderful St Genevieve Library.

    My family have always loved The Christmas Story – a wry American memoir of childhood Christmases. Almost unknown in NZ but a real charmer.

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