Toto The Hero (1991)

Directed by Jaco Van Dormael, who also directed The Eighth Day and Mr Nobody, this Belgian film is a bitter­sweet fable of lost love and missed oppor­tun­ities (subtitled “How to Mess Up Your Life”) that follows its prot­ag­onist liter­ally from the cradle to the grave.

The story told in flash­back, is about an embittered and lonely old man who is convinced that his whole life has been ‘stolen’ from him due to a mix up during a fire at the hospital where he was born. It is the boy next door, hand­some and successful, who is the thief and who wins the girl he is in love with. The old man plots revenge.


The world of Toto is a blend of the natur­al­istic and the hyper-real; inviting us to share in the fantasies of the main char­acter, and super­fi­cially seems to belong to the school of ‘magic realism’ that features in box-office hits like the whim­sical Amelie. But it has much darker over­tones: loss, disap­point­ment, a crip­pling sense of futility.

The sequence excerpted here, however, belongs to one of its lighter moments: the old man remem­bering the unique perspective of his child­hood which is presented in the style of a children’s matinee show. It follows a theme that is threaded through the film and helps to lend it an unex­pected depth of feeling.

It is diffi­cult to convey how a child sees the world without being patron­ising or senti­mental. This is one of the best attempts at it on screen.

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© David Clough 2010

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