Picks and Pans Review: Toto Le Heros

updated 03/16/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/16/1992 01:00AM

Michel Bouquet, Jo de Backer

The unexamined life, Socrates said, is not worth living. Well, Thomas Godet (Bouquet), the surveyor hero of this dark, funny, surrealistic and inexorably moving film, knows a lot about examining his life. It's all he does.

The way Thomas, now 60, sees things, he has been dished out the wrong existence. He's convinced he was switched at birth with the spoiled rich boy next door, whose father, incidentally, he views as responsible for the death of his own beloved dad. The elderly Thomas wants his life back from his boyhood nemesis, now a powerful industrialist. How he goes about laving claim to what he sees as his proper existence is the heart of Belgian director Jaco van Dormael's beautifully performed film about memory, longing and redemption.

Divided into three segments of seamless flashbacks and flash forwards, the movie chronicles Thomas's life as a boy, including his tacit love for his precocious sister Alice (Sandrine Blancke).

Thomas, who as a boy amused himself with the fantasy that he was a heroic secret agent named Toto, maintains the fantasy as an impotently vengeful old man. Plot lines intricately double back on themselves in adroitly ironic twists. The ultimate irony: As Thomas embraces the life he views as rightfully his, becoming the hero of his dreams, he must confront his own mortality. (In French, with subtitles) (PG-13)

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