Essay Film Festival 2018: Va, Toto! Discussion

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A conversation between director Pierre Creton, actor Vincent Barré, and Michael Temple, Birkbeck

With support from the French Institute, London

Pierre Creton’s Va, Toto! is a delightful experiment in essayistic storytelling in which a baby boar, Toto, is rescued and brought up by Madeleine, an elegant old lady living in rural Normandy… Although the story at first seems like a fairy tale, in fact it is all true, as Madeleine really is Creton’s neighbour and the narrated events were filmed as they were actually happening. This subtle blending of everyday reality and a certain film magic make Va, Toto! one of the most original and enchanting movies of recent times.

Creton is himself a rare artistic beast, insofar as he works as an agricultural labourer alongside his film practice, and he considers himself an amateur or ‘Sunday painter’ whose films must adapt themselves to the rhythms of his working life, and beyond that to the rhythms of nature. In the case of Va, Toto!, for many years Pierre had wanted to film his neighbour Madeleine, who had always refused his artistic advances, until the day that Toto, an orphan whose real mother had been killed by hunters, turned up in the old lady’s life – at which point she invited Pierre into her world to film the story of the young boar.

The material shot daily by Creton over a period of eight months forms the narrative core of the essay film that he was to elaborate into Va, Toto! In addition to the relationship between Madeleine and Toto, the film tells two further parallel stories: a trip to India undertaken by Pierre’s partner, Vincent Barré, to study the sacred monkeys of Shimla; and closer to home, the troubled dreams of Joseph, a neighbour with respiratory problems, who is obliged to use a mechanical ventilator day and night…

The intertwining of these three true stories, and the formal elegance of the film as a whole, with its painterly composition, beautiful light, and split-screen effects, together produce an absolutely original, one-off filmic creation – a kind of natural mystery film, which certainly features the greatest performance by a wild boar in the history of cinema!

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