Toto recall

Returning to Berlin after last year’s Glasgow sojourn, the European Film Awards are upon us once more. Tara Lewis reports on Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael’s debut feature Toto The Hero while below, Trevor Johnston surveys the rest of the 1991 contenders.

Like Guiseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso and Lasse Halstrom‘s My Life As A Dog both among the most commercially successful European movies of recent years Toto The Hero uses a child’s eye view to provide a crucial part of the film’s creative make-up and emotional impact. But Toto differs in that Director J aco Van Dormael refuses to guarantee a healthy box office return by shamelessly milking the viewer’s sympathies for the pre-pubescent protagonists to humorous or sentimental effect.

Not that this failure to push the doe-eyed moppet factor is likely to be detrimental to the film‘s chances of becoming a Euro-hit, if critical reaction thus far is anything to go by. Indeed, it makes a pleasant change to find a moviemaker who eschews the easy option of frequent recourse to the ‘aah’ button. Not that Toto is a cold or aloof piece of work. Far from it, in fact. Insisting on the formative influence ofour first few years over the attitudes and relationships that mark the rest of our lives, it‘s the wise and understanding scrutiny of the connection between the child and the adult that makes the film what it is.

Toto The Hero: one oi those rare loyouslpieces oicelluloid

Stylishly cross-cutting through time and moving from reality to fantasy with equal aplomb, the action is framed by the central character Thomas as he looks back from old age on a life substantially shaped by his ongoing rivalry with his boyhood neighbour Alfred. Thomas is sure that the two boys were switched at birth in the hospital. so denying him rich parents and a comfortable upbringing. Yet more galling is the way in which Alfred arrives on the scene to sabotage our hero’s doting relationship with his slightly older sister Evelyne. As family events take a tragic turn,

i Award took its place on the one-time clown‘s

Thomas dreams ofa fictional alter-ego. the gun-toting secret agent Toto The Hero, who seeks revenge for all the unhappiness he has had to endure, and whose imaginary presence is to be a line of continuity through the advancing decades of passionate romance and nostalgic regret.

Van Dormael‘s theme, one supposes, is how you can only truly know happiness when you relinquish the effort oforganising your life into a neat story allowing the confines of an obsession to rule over both happiness and despair. Which makes it all the more ironic, and yet rather apt, that the Toto‘scomplex structure is a triumph of richly controlled narrative filmmaking remarkable in a first-time filmmaker.

Bristling with a sly humour and sense of serene absurdity that finally sees Thomas triumph over the adversity around him, Van Dormael's movie is without a doubt the most lauded debut to have come out of Europe this year. An ecstatic reception in Cannes last May prefaced the award of the Camera d’Or for best first feature, while the Edinburgh Film Festival‘s similar Charles Chaplin

mantelpiece a few months later. Drawing up the final list ofnominations for the 1991 European Film Awards, the preliminary panel decided that there was no competition in some of the categories and named Toto outright winner for the European Screenwriter of the Year (Jaco Van Dormael) and European Cinematographer of the Year (Walter van der Ende).

Ofcoursc. all the prizes in the world count for little ifthe picture that has garnered them fails to live up to its reputation, but in this case, Toto The Hero is one of those rare, joyous pieces of celluloid that comes out of nowhere and yet still convinces the doubting viewer that, yes. the cinema still has a few marvels to throw at us after all.

Toto The Hero plays Edinburgh Filmhouse from Thurs 28 Nov—Tue 1() Dec and Glasgow Film Theatre early in January.

E - - r {‘1‘ r .

1990 saw Glasgow's heavily-Mackintoshed Royal Concett Hall play host to the third European Film Awards ceremony and brought a gaggle oi Euro celebs including Nastassia Kinski, Jeanne Moreau, Carmen Maura and Max Von Sydow to I the Culture City. This year, come the ilrst Sunday in December, it’s back to the competition’s birth-place and the administrative centre in a now-unilled Berlin.

All the technical awards have been decided in advance, and so Jaco Van Dormael’s Toto The item has two


Fellxes in the bag, while the composer (Iceland's Children at Nature), production design (Delicatessen) and

5 Director's Fortnight section.

5 editing (Ultras) awards are known.

1 Also wrapped up is the documentary

: prize to the Polish iiim Hear My Cry,

7 while the European Cinema Society Liletime Achievement Award goes to veteran French production designer

, AlexanderTrauner and the European Cinema Society’s Special Award to the

5 Cannes Film Festival’s talent-spotting

Among the Final Jury members,

. chaired by actress Hanna Schygulla,

are Soviet director Elem Klimov, cinematographer Bruno de Keyzer and our very own Terry Jones, who still have the responsibility ior picking out

i the winners oi the year’s major awards.

As it's a lirst leature, Toto The Hero is in the Young European Film oi the Year

category, tipped to edge out Jeanet and Caro’s eye-popping Gallic lantasy

Delicatessen and Ricky Tognazzi‘s

| chronicle of hooliganism Italian-style

i in Ultras. Most British interest will be

.5 centred on Ken Loach’s Riii-Raii, in

l contention ior the European Film oi the

§ Year with Volker Schlondortt's oedipal

' odyssey Voyager and Jacques

i Doiilon‘s French oiiering Le Petit

Criminel, while iotmer Brookside

f stalwart Ricky Tomlinson could be in

I line ior European Supporting Actor oi

the Year. Other perlormance Felixes

g might be on their way to Toto's Michel

Bouquet, and Voyager has a chance to

. come away with both European Actress

5 and Supporting Actress ii the jury decides in lavour oi Juliet Deply and Barbara Sukowa.

The Fourth Eurpoean Film Awards take place in Berlin on Sun 1 Dec. UK television transmission is yet to be , decided, but expect highlights late the lollowing evening on Channel 4. I,


The List 22 November— 5 December 1991 13