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aka - Toto Le Heros
Belgium/France/Germany 1991
Directed by
Jaco Van Dormael
94 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Toto The Hero

Jaco Van Dormael’s debut feature is one of those film’s oft referred to as a “small gem”  - modest in scale and ambition but charmingly realized within those parameters. It tells the story of Thomas who when we encounter him is a lonely old man in a nursing home who harbours a fantasy of murdering Albert his childhood next-door neighbour who he believes stole his life when during a fire at the hospital where they were born they were accidentally switched.  The film jumps back and forth between Thomas as an old man (played by Michel Bouquet), his childhood (Thomas Godet) and an adult (Jo De Backer). In each phase of which the hated Alfred plays a part.

The idea that one was given the wrong parents by accident is a common one amongst children but there is a decided pathos when this is held onto throughout one’s whole life.  And there is nothing like pathos for good comedy. Although his film is more of a tragicomedy Van Dormael rightly takes a humorous approach to his story with old Thomas whose life has been dogged by chronic disappointment  finding a certain amount of cheer in the idea that he is finally going to have revenge on the baby in the adjoining cot to his.

With a sensibility that looks forward to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie, Toto Le Héros is as clever visually as it is deft in conception and articulation, seamlessly moving between the three time periods and for all its episodic slightness managing to pack in good deal of suggestive observation about how we tend to imagine other people's lives are better than our own and in the process miss out on or fail to seize the opportunities that come our way.




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