Toto the Hero, debut pic by Belgian helmer Jaco van Dormael, is a winning blend of kid’s fantasy and adult comedy that’s as fresh as a hot croissant. Multilayered plot kicks off in rollercoaster style with Thomas van Hasebroeck (Michel Bouquet) soliloquizing in a hospital bed about childhood buddy Alfred Kant ‘stealing’ his life. Thomas reckons he was given to the wrong family because of chaos during a hospital fire. The Kant family went on to become rich and famous, while Thomas was stuck with a workaday middle-class upbringing in a dull Belgian nabe.
Especially in its early stages, with kid Thomas’ screwy view of life, pic often plays like a Euro version of The World according to Garp. The tempo slows in the long central section dominated by the adult Thomas’ affair with Evelyne (Mireille Perier), who may or may not be his sister; but the pacey final reels rediscover the opening’s elan and spring some neat twists in the bargain.
Former clown and children’s theater director Van Dormael unravels the complex skein with much assurance and shows a sharp talent for absurdist comedy. Technically it’s fine all round, with perky use of the w.k. Charles Trenet song ‘Boum.’