Toto The Hero – Arrow Films

Written & Directed by Jaco Van Dormeal

 Belgium/ 1991/ 91 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5.

homas is an unreliable narrator and swears he has been swapped at birth with his spoiled, meanspirited and irritating neighbour Alfred. Toto the Hero begins in Thomas’ future, the crisp cold darkness of a manor home the scene of a death, revenge and the payoff of a life’s turmoil and imagination-fuelled vengeance. It’s not always clear where the line of fantasy is drawn, with the mosaic of flashbacks and whimsical perspective clouding the narration but, as Thomas reflects, we realise this has always been the case. Its peculiar sense of childlike innocence and fantasy reinforces the traumatic struggles and occasionally outlandish plot while enriching the humour.

Taking its title from Toto, the imagined self Thomas wishes he could be, a detective righting the wrongs of his father’s death, the film plays out with clever laughs and catching visuals. For decades filmmakers have endeavoured to blend aspects of children’s fantasy with adult themes and humour, usually leaning heavily on one rather than incorporating them together. Toto the Hero is an abnormally rare example of infusing two story-telling methods sublimely, building on the foundations laid by the other.

Walther van den Ende’s cinematography plays expertly into the daydream angle, offering up heaps of enjoyable shots as the film plays into Thomas’ imagination. Whether this is reducing the colour scale as the film-noir Toto, or the hyper-realist colours of Belgian suburbia with the dancing tulips, the film’s editing allows a seamless cause and effect narrative, gradually switching between the catalyst of Thomas’ frustrations and repercussions. There’s also a dose of adroitness as the characters age, where scenes tend to have quicker edits, while the never-ending days of youth are served with complimentary lengthier shots.

Despite these leanings into rich colours, Toto the Hero refreshingly abstains from sentiment. Relationships can be pure and loving, but the grief, loss and trauma strikingly never stray into melodrama. Michel Bouquet’s sombre voice throughout means that Thomas’ emotional pitch never crescendos; nothing is played for the sake of drama. His desire for revenge on childhood nemesis Alfred never reaches a pitch of ridicule, rather a bitter pang which allows the two to remain speaking, even when vying for the affection of their mutual crush Alice.

Standing head-and-shoulders ahead of her adult peers, Sandrine Blancke’s short time as Alice, Thomas’ possible-sister-love-interest is, for a child performer, exceptional. The incestual nature of Alice and Thomas’ relationship, even if he may not be her brother, is off-putting, and there’s a disturbing focus on Alice’s sexuality as a minor. This does, however, play into the hands of Thomas’ fantasy, and is handled with a deal of delicacy and authenticity which staves off ill-intent. Blancke’s powerful presence balances Thomas Godet’s impetuous, imaginative but shy Thomas as a child.

Nowhere is the writing tauter than in the conclusion, the final clutch Thomas takes to turn the tables and reclaim his ‘stolen’ life. From murder plot to acceptance, the disjointed beginning finds meaning in a tightly stitched series of events which result in a tremendous payoff. But irritatingly this is Toto the Hero’s key fault – it’s too positive. There are a few too many occasions where Jaco Van Dormael’s direction is hesitant to bite down. His reputation for respectful films, which promote those with mental and physical disabilities makes for an exceptionally well-cast film, with intricate writing that both understands and values the struggles of individual characters. It just means Van Dormeal refrains from drawing blood.

Maintaining the film’s ethereal nature, Arrow Film’s Blu-ray rerelease brings an exemplary piece of Belgian cinema to fresh audiences, showcasing a rare species of film. One where the nuances of childhood revelry, make-belief and daydreaming enhance the adult comedy, ideas and repercussions.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/toto-the-hero/

Magic Gareth Live! – Review

Produced by Gareth White

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August in Scotland. The only four days of sun you’ll experience, no one seems to be wearing a shirt and of course the much beloved or dreaded Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Well… perhaps not this year. Or just maybe, with a little bit of luck and determination, a certain few will shine through and stage their own events. A local favourite, Gareth White has taken to digital performances throughout Lockdown, conducting well over 300 shows. Now, Magic Gareth Live! seeks to deliver that quality Fringe experience to newcomers and a few dab-hands.

Now, remember, if you can’t figure out the trick – well, that’s half the fun. Gareth’s repertoire primarily concerns the classics, with a couple of unique or digital twists (extra points for the Disney references). Chiefly aimed for the tots of the home, Gareth’s charismatic style is evidently targeting the family bracket, but don’t let those puns fool you – there’s some wit behind those cheeky grins. It’s entertainment for everyone, with enough back and forth discussion to involve adults and equally capture their sense of awe.

A compact routine, just over half an hour, Magic Gareth Live! fills a tremendous amount of jovial fun into the timeslot, more than enough to set those imaginations ablaze for the rest of the day. Personal, the Zoom feature shows Gareth control of the room, including any kids who want to get involved and have their days made or allowing those quieter tots to branch out a little and still involve themselves in their own way.

What’s particularly wonderful is Gareth’s refusal to cop-out a cheap get-away with a green screen. It’s there as a projection tool, to create a charming spellcaster’s locale rather than offer quick illusions or short-cuts in the magic. Technical wizardry only makes a brief appearance in a couple acts, while the remainder of Gareth’s set is a fine welcome to the world of the mystical as any tiny ones can hope for (and a way for the old fans to brush-up).

Sleight-of-hand, sleeves, and top hats, and even a jolly holiday – Magic Gareth Live! is a Fringe-lite experience without dealing with the crowds, heat, and expensive baked potatoes. Ideal for kids stuck at home, struggling to find a sparkle in their day-to-day activities, this live experience may be precisely the sort of jolt of energy they require.

Magic Gareth Live! is performing daily at 11am from August 2nd – August 9th. Tickets can be purchased from: https://www.magicgareth.co.uk/live2020

And if you’re feeling social, why not give Magic Gareth a follow on Facebook?

Bare E-ssentials 3: with a Vengeance – Encompass Productions

Produced by Liam Fleming, Rachael Owens & Jonathon Woodhouse

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Who says the sequels are never as good as the original? Back with a vengeance, Bare Essentials, one of London’s leading new creative writing evenings returns for their monthly reminder of the talent out there in the world. The now award evening 17th edition (third virtual), is as strong as ever and ready to grab life by the unmentionables and explore unique stories, original creators and some fresh takes.

This evening we’re treated to a quartet of fresh innovative writing, all helmed under the watchful eye of the charming host Liam Fleming. Each comprises different genres, styles and aesthetics, as these four pieces make up a cluster of imaginative premises, exceptionally prepared and thought-out through lockdown and isolation – many incorporating the now normal struggles, working with the limitations of COVID rather than actively struggling against.

Despite what pretences may come with new writings, nothing about Bare E-ssentials is scratch media or a melting pot, these are fully-fledged concepts with finished productions. Evident in the direction and writing, the online format opens up the conceptual dynamics of the shorts, where inspirations from cinema and theatre are seeded into original concepts.

First up, there’s a set of Rules which must always be adhered to in life, especially those concerning sex and friends. Lucy Jamieson’s short production takes two friends stuck at home, Jess and Alex, as they lament the struggles of life, and the difficulties of balancing relationships, friendships, and syphilis. Together the pair have terrific energy and chemistry, and the jarring sense of the comedy settles quickly, with Rachael Owens direction coming over as a Channel 4 pilot episode. It’s the richest laugh of the evening, and the finest way to start.

It isn’t all giggles and comradery, however, as both Emma Dawson’s Stones Around My Neck and Jacquie Penrose’s Listen take a substantially darker turn, well – it wouldn’t be a new writing night without this turn. Sat alone, Deborah Garvey effortlessly holds attention in Dawson’s piece as she reflects on the relationship (or lack of) with her youngest daughter, and the influence she has had weighing down aspects of her life – sombre, it’s an investable performance. Equally, a combination of Fleming’s direction with Amelia Parillon’s performance in Penrose’s chilling Listen, which perhaps adheres to the idea of a shot in lockdown the quickest.

Throughout are reminders as to why the recent session of Bare E-ssentials was the honourable winner of an Oncomm Award. The creativity practicality behind scripts, particularly James C Ferguson’s The Chair, where Jonathon Woodhouse’s direction shows how Encompass Productions takes steps beyond the traditional shot-at-home premise, elevating the pieces and working some of the stretched writing mechanics.

An essential lifeblood for the arts community across the nation, Bare E-ssentials is a brief monthly reminder of the exceptional community we’re at risk of losing. Episode 4 of the online series is due to release on August 26th, and couldn’t be recommended enough with a small glass of your favourite and some solid company. And while there’s no possible way to know what spectacles, wonders and oddities may emerge from that evening, it’s safe to say there will be a tremendous showcase of emerging and undervalued talent.

Further information about Bare E-ssentials can be found at Encompass Productions: http://www.encompassproductions.co.uk

You can catch the third installment, and catch up on the rest, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amwtba7YPN0