Tag Archives: Michel Bouquet


“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


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)


  • 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.

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)

38. MALPERTUIS (1972)

AKA The Legend of Doom House; Malpertuis: The Legend of Doom House

“For sure, one of the weirdest films you’ll ever see, a cult film above and beyond anything else; a film for those initiated into midnight screenings. Where else do such dreams take place?”—Ernest Mathjis, DVD liner notes for the Barrel Entertainment edition of Malpertuis

DIRECTED BY: Harry Kümel

FEATURING: , Susan Hampshire, , Michel Bouquet,

PLOT:   When his ship sets anchor in a Flemish town, Jan, a sailor, goes looking for his childhood home, only to find that it burned down years ago.  Seeing a fleeing woman he believes to be his sister, he chases her into a brothel where he is knocked unconscious in a brawl.  He awakens in Malpertuis, a massive estate ruled by his Uncle Cassavius (Orson Welles) from his sickbed.  Cassavius reads his will to his very strange extended family, and its provisions set them at deadly odds with one another.

Still from Malpertuis (1972)


  • Malpertuis was an adpation of the only novel written by the Belgian fantasist Jean Ray, who was famous for his macabre short stories (and is sometimes compared to Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft). The novel was complex, composed of four separate narratives told by four characters, and therefore presented a challenge to adapt.
  • Kümel’s previous film was the dreamlike, erotic vampire tale Daughters of Darkness [Les lèvres rouges] (1971).  Hired to make a sexy commercial horror movie, Kümel delivered a memorably bizarre film that pleased exploitation audiences looking for blood and breasts, but was also a crossover hit in the arthouse circuit.  The success of Daughters convinced United Artists to back the Malpertuis project, which was the film Kümel personally wanted to make.  UA’s financial backing enabled Kümel to hire Orson Welles for the key role of Cassavius.
  • Orson Welles was hired for three days of shooting.  An irascible, elderly eccentric by this time in his career, Welles asked for his fee to be delivered in cash in a suitcase.  Welles was drunk and rude on the set, interfering with Kümel’s attempts to direct and, in one case, repeatedly ruining one of Michel Bouquet’s takes until the director agreed to give Welles a closeup he had requested.  At the end of Welles’ three-day contract, the project was well behind schedule due to the legendary actor’s drunkenness, extended lunch breaks and general peevishness.  Apologizing for his behavior, Welles volunteered to work for a fourth day free, and performed all his remaining scenes perfectly in a single morning, putting the production back on schedule.
  • Malpertuis was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1972, but United Artists did not like Kümel’s two-hour cut and submitted a dubbed, re-edited 100 minute  version of the film rather than the director’s preferred version.  The film was not popular with the jury, then bombed in both the United States and Europe when UA released its preferred version (misleadingly marketed as a horror pic) as The Legend of Doom House. Not only did the film tank, but Kümel’s promising young career was cut short.  Disgusted with studio interference, he began directing in television and teaching, and has directed only a few unremarkable feature films (including some arty softcore pornography) in the last twenty-eight years.
  • The director’s cut of the film was unavailable on video for many years, and was not seen until the film was re-released in 2002.  This cut was not available on home video until 2005, and not available on Region 1 until 2007.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The weary face of the legendary Orson Welles, grumpy and gray but still regal, as he reclines in tuxedo-like pajamas against scarlet bedsheets. The bed-ridden Welles embodies the decaying secret center of the wickedness of Malpertuis.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Even before we get to the psychedelic-era Chinese puzzle-box of an ending(s), Malpertuis has created a disorienting sense of oddness. Both the film and the titular estate are labyrinthine mazes filled with enchanting and mysteriously decorated rooms, with little explanation of how these dazzling individual pieces fit together into the grand layout.

Original French trailer for Malpertuis

COMMENTS: “It’s pretty, but it’s a bit difficult to understand… Somehow, it makes me Continue reading 38. MALPERTUIS (1972)