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Toto le héros (1991)

PG-13 | | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy | 19 June 1991 (France)
Thomas and Alfred were born around the same time; a fire in the nursery had nurses scrambling to save the newborns. Because he felt that he deserved Alfred's good fortune at being born into... See full summary »



(collaborator), (collaborator) | 2 more credits »
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 16 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Thomas, as an old man
Jo De Backer ...
Thomas, as an adult
Thomas Godet ...
Thomas, as a child
Gisela Uhlen ...
Evelyne as an old woman
Mireille Perrier ...
Evelyne as young woman
Sandrine Blancke ...
Peter Böhlke ...
Alfred as an old man
Didier Ferney ...
Alfred, as an adult
Hugo Harold-Harrison ...
Alfred, as a child
Fabienne Loriaux ...
Thomas' Mother
Klaus Schindler ...
Thomas' Father
Celestin, as an adult
Karim Moussati ...
Celestin, as a child
Didier De Neck ...
Mr. Kant
Christine Smeysters ...
Mrs. Kant


Thomas and Alfred were born around the same time; a fire in the nursery had nurses scrambling to save the newborns. Because he felt that he deserved Alfred's good fortune at being born into a wealthy family, Thomas conceives the idea that he and Alfred were switched at birth, and he can't help seeing that his unhappiness should be Alfred's, from the loss of his sister to his inability to have a relationship with the woman Evelyne. So, as his life is ending, he formulates a plan of revenge against his bitter enemy, his lifetime adversary, the man who stole his existence. Written by Gary Dickerson <slug@mail.utexas.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

dream | fire | revenge | birth | neighbor | See All (269) »


Comedy | Drama | Fantasy

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for violence and sensuality (nudity) | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:




| |


Release Date:

19 June 1991 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Totò the Hero  »


Box Office

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


As some of the locations were rather remote (particularly the unguarded railway crossing at Sint Amands), much of the technical crew and equipment was carried on the train. See more »


Featured in Zomergasten: Episode #10.2 (1997) See more »


Music by Charles Trenet
Lyrics by Charles Trenet
Performed by Charles Trenet
Societe EMI France
(c) Edition Vianelly
See more »

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User Reviews

A kind of naturalistic delight
7 April 2002 | by See all my reviews

Thomas is a bitter old man who feels he has been cheated out of the life that was rightly his because he and another boy were switched at birth during a fire at the hospital. Alfred, the other boy, lives a life of privilege and becomes rich. Thomas is jealous. But in another sense Thomas needs to believe that he was switched because he falls in love with his sister Alice. If he really was switched, they are not related.

This is just one of the ironic witticisms spun out by Jaco van Dormael, who wrote and directed this striking and totally original bit of life triumphant. Veteran French actor Michel Bouquet plays Thomas as an old man, sneaking cigarettes in the old folks home, reliving his memories, plotting his revenge. Jo De Backer plays Thomas as a slightly nerdish young man, consumed by the loss of his beloved sister in a fire when she was about eleven or twelve. One day by accident he spots a woman who reminds him of his sister. He follows her, they fall in love, and it turns out she is married to Alfred! Thomas Godet plays the little boy Thomas with charm and a touching vulnerability. He is picked on and bullied by Alfred and his friends who taunt him with, "van Chickensoup!" (I wonder if the French Academie approves of this vulgar Anglais.) Sandrine Blancke plays Thomas's cute and impish older sister. Mireille Perrier plays Evelyne, who is the woman who reminds Thomas of his sister.

In a sense this is a romantic comedy, but be warned that in the French cinema a hint of incest is seldom looked on as shocking, rather as something almost akin to nostalgia. And certainly every woman should have a lover and every man a mistress. In another sense this is an art film that plays with time, using both flashbacks and flash forwards to present a story filled with spooky coincidences, punctuated with fantasy and a kind of naturalistic glorification of life epitomized in the catchy tune, "Boom!" that weaves its way in and out of the story, a tune you might have trouble getting out of your head, so be forewarned. ("Boom! When your heart goes boom! It's love, love, love!" written and performed by Charles Trenet.) There is also as aspect of sentimentality, especially in the resolution, that provides a sweet contrast with the naturalistic pathos. When the words that Alice spoke as a child is reprised by Evelyne (although she could not have known what Alice had said) we are delighted, and Thomas is a little rattled.. ("Do you like my hands?" she asks, holding them up. "Which hand do you prefer?")

The bitter old man learns that he really had the better of it all along (and so he does somewhat the opposite of what he had intended) and indeed we in the audience realize that how we might feel about life, looking back on it, might really just depend on how we choose to feel about it. Dormael's message seems to be that love makes life worth living. We are left with the sense that there is a time for love, and that time passes, and we have to accept that and celebrate the memory.

Best scene: Ten-year-old Thomas sees his perhaps 11-year-old sister rising out of the bath tub. (We see only his widening eyes; this is a discreet movie.) He says, "I...didn't know you had breasts." She replies (deadpanning the pride of a pre-adolescence girl), "I thought you'd read about them in the newspapers."

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)

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