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TOTO THE HERO

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: This French film from the early 1990s has been the subject of much debate over the years, and now to renew those arguments Arrow Releasing has issued a Blu-ray upgrade with bonus features. I enjoyed the film, with reservations, when it hit theaters some 28 years ago. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 15, 1992.

"Toto Le Heros" is a peculiar Belgian film that garnered raves at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Its structure is anything but traditional, juxtaposing memories and fantasies, many in flashback, as it tells the story of an unhappy old man whose life is obsessed with a memory (fantasy?) that he was switched at birth.

He plots the death of his successful neighbor who, as a baby, was supposedly switched with him in infancy — and we see that his youth was an unhappy one, wracked with personal tragedy and an inability to adjust to his own life.

It's a fable of what might have been, and it is more the telling than the story itself that gives force to this narrative.

      

    Mireille Perrier, Thomas Godet, 'Toto the Hero' (1992)

"Toto les Heros" spins off of what goes on in the mind of an elderly man (Michel Bouquet) who lives in a nursing home. Mostly what he nurses, however, is a grudge against the man who lived the life he feels was stolen from him.

He also remembers his unhappy youth, his bizarre relationship with his sister and mother, and his later lonely life as an adult, which is briefly interrupted by a romantic tryst with a twist.

He also fantasizes occasionally that he's a top-flight secret agent.

      

It's unfortunate that while the film is so well conceived it fails to flesh out its characters. There's really not enough understanding of their motivations, and it's a serious problem that brings up more questions than answers when the film is over.

Still, this writing-directing debut of Jaco Van Dormael is remarkable for what it does accomplish. It's certainly a film that audience members will be talking about — or perhaps, debating — for some time after they leave the theater.

"Toto les Heros," which is in French with English dialogue, is not rated but is in PG-13 territory with violence, sex, nudity and a single profanity.