Toto the Hero

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Toto the Hero
Toto le Héros, 1991.jpg
Directed by Jaco Van Dormael
Bénédicte Liénard
(assistant director)
Produced by Dany Geys
Luciano Gloor
Written by Didier De Neck
Pascal Lonhay
Jaco Van Dormael
Laurette Vankeerberghen
Starring Michel Bouquet
Jo De Backer
Mireille Perrier
Gisela Uhlen
Music by Pierre van Dormael
Cinematography Walther van den Ende
Edited by Susana Rossberg
Running time
91 minutes
Country Belgium, France, Germany
Language French

Toto le Héros (Toto the Hero) is a 1991 Belgian film (coproduced with France and Germany) by Belgian film director and screenwriter Jaco Van Dormael.


Ostensibly set in the near future, the film tells the life story of an elderly man named Thomas Van Hazebrouck (who has dubbed himself Toto, after a childhood fantasy), looking back on his ordinary, apparently uneventful life in a complex mosaic of flashbacks, interspersed with fantasies about how events might have turned out differently. It is not always possible to tell the difference between embellished or manufactured memories and fantasies, as Thomas is a very unreliable narrator, but some scenes (such as the narrative thread that features Toto as a secret agent) are definitely fantasized.

Thomas firmly believes his life to have been "stolen" from him by Alfred Kant, born at the same time as Thomas, who Thomas believes was inadvertently switched with himself as a baby (characteristically, the film remains ambiguous as to whether this substitution ever actually happened, with Thomas' only substantiation being his apparent vivid memory of the day he was born). Thomas' jealousy of Alfred has overshadowed all his life, often with tragic consequences for his loved ones, and he is plotting revenge. Throughout most of the film, his intended revenge takes the shape of a plot to kill Alfred, but in the end Thomas finds a more creative and surprising way to "take back" his life.


The film's structure is unusual especially in its complex treatment of time, with multithreaded flashbacks and dream sequences arranged according to a complicated, childlike logic in which events at different times are seen to mirror or echo earlier or later events, sometimes obviously and sometimes so subtly that it can only be discerned after repeated viewing.

A characteristic example occurs in the scene where Thomas and Alfred are switched: While the fire breaks out in the maternity ward, the television set coincidentally also shows a fire breaking out (an apparent echo in real time). Later in the film, the fire breaking out on the television turns out to be the same fire in which Thomas' sister Alice is accidentally killed (an echo across time).

The complex temporal structure of the film has been compared with other films that use nonlinear and parallel treatments of time, such as Run Lola Run, but Toto le Héros is exceptional in the degree to which this technique is carried, with scenes at the same time flashing back and flashing forward to other scenes, and sometimes even with the same scene apparently incorporating events from different timelines or different points on the same timeline.

DVD release[edit]

Paramount Pictures has yet to announce any plans to release the film onto DVD in North America. It is available on DVD in the UK and mainland Europe.


See also[edit]


External links[edit]