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84. TOTO THE HERO [TOTO LE HÉROS] (1991)

“I often have that strange and penetrating dream, of an unknown woman whom I love and who loves me. And every time, she’s neither quite the same nor completely different…”–Toto the Hero

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Jaco Van Dormael

FEATURING: Michel Bouquet, Jo De Backer, Thomas Godet, Sandrine Blancke, Mireille Perrier, Peter Böhlke, Didier Ferney, Hugo Harold-Harrison

PLOT: Thomas firmly believes that he was switched at birth with his next door neighbor, Alfred: that Alfred’s parents are really his parents, that Alfred’s toys should be his, that his destiny was appropriated by Alfred. He’s also romantically attracted to his sister, and jealous of the attention she shows the neighbor boy; this obsession pursues him to adulthood, when he finds a woman who reminds him of his sister so much that he fears it may actually be her. Now an old man in a nursing home, Thomas plots to kill Alfred and take back the life that was stolen from him.

Still from Toto the Hero (1991)

BACKGROUND:

  • Writer/director Jaco Van Dormael was a circus clown before turning to filmmaking.
  • Despite critical praise for each of his movies, Van Dormael has only made three features in 20 years: Toto the Hero, The Eighth Day [Le huitième jour] (1996), and Mr. Nobody (2009).
  • It took Van Dormael five years to write the dense script (working with three credited collaborators).
  • Toto won the Camera D’or (a prize recognizing the best debut feature film) at Cannes in 1991.
  • Paramount Pictures apparently owns the distribution rights in the U.S., but has not shown any interest in releasing the film on Region 1 DVD (it was released on VHS). Toto is available on DVD in Region 2.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Toto the Hero relies on its elaborate narrative structure rather than visuals for its effect, but the movie’s iconic image is young Thomas clutching his toy airplane; appropriately, it’s only memorable due to the point in the story where it occurs. (If you must have a weird scene instead of the most memorable one, pick the image of Thomas’ dead father and sister appearing to him on the back of a moving truck, playing a piano and trumpet duet).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The story structure, which dives in and out of narrative wormholes, emerging at different points in Thomas’ life. There are flashbacks inside of flashbacks, with a liberal sprinkling of fantasy sequences mixed in—some obvious, some more ambiguous.  And all the incest stuff—with a beloved sister who seems not to stay dead—doesn’t hurt the movie’s weirdness one bit, either.

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Clip from Toto les Heros (in French)

COMMENTS:  At some point in all of our lives, we will inevitably fail to land that job or Continue reading 84. TOTO THE HERO [TOTO LE HÉROS] (1991)