Toto the Hero

"Extraordinary"

Toto the Hero Review


Foreign art films are mostly appreciated by a small group of patrons and critics who like almost all foreign films, from The Rules of the Game right down to travesties like Blow-Up, and barely discriminate between a masterpiece and a skin flick. Meanwhile, mainstream audiences continue to ignore other European films. This is a shame, because a lot of European directors - well, at least a few - are making films that outshine American attempts in every genre.

With Toto the Hero, aka Toto Le Heros, Belgian newcomer Jaco van Dormael created a whimsical and disturbing debut that was Belgium's biggest international hit to date. Toto Le Heros is a celebration of the absurd, a meditation on the eternal return, Back to the Future with a European sensibilite. What else can you say about a movie that makes obsessive love for one's sister, fantasies of murdering a rival, a life spent alone, and shoplifting and setting fire to buildings all seem sweet as an afternoon picnic?

Toto Le Heros is based on Van Dormael's belief that "we become what we never thought we would become, and we end in a way we never thought we would end." The protagonist, Thomas van Haserbroek, is seen in boyhood (Thomas Godet, whose earnest innocence was a welcome respite after the Culkin vehicles), midlife (Jo De Backer) and old age (Michel Bouquet); he matures but never entirely grows up, he knows true happiness and is cheated out of it. Throughout, Van Dormael's film subtly manipulates the audience, reminding us that fate is a cruel bastard, but the world is still a heckuva place.

After the death of their father (which traumatizes their mother), Thomas' intimacy with his beloved, astute older sister Alice (the winning Sandrine Blancke) becomes the focal point of his life, a love that evolves through their lives and alteregos. Following Van Dormael's axiom, the ending is an amalgam of trumpet lessons, livestock, Belgians in foreplay, and other recurring motifs in which van Haserbroek perishes in flames and laughter, his life simultaneously all-important and insignificant as a dust mite. Through it all plays a puerile bathtub chanson about how great it is to be in love.

Despite a few obscure plot turns (which are too deeply ingrained in European cinema to avoid), Toto Le Heros shines with dreamlike romanticism and wit. Life is brief and absurd. Love, which rides away in the back of a truck toward the end of the movie, must be seized despite its contradictions: tacky but comforting, everpresent but uncontrollable. Nihilistic but not cynical - tragic and funny - Toto flashes before our eyes life's most memorable feelings, from the playground to the grave. It is fashionable in Europe (and elsewhere) to believe that life signifies nothing; but even as it pokes absurdity and meaninglessness in your face, Toto Le Heros offers plenty of reasons to live.



Toto the Hero

Facts and Figures

Run time: 91 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 19th June 1991

Production compaines: Iblis Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Thomas, as an old man, as Evelyne as an old woman, as Thomas, as an adult, as Evelyne as young woman

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