VITUS
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
or plot points, there are now two movies in
theaters that dwell on the trials and tribulations
of raising a gifted child. In both the Swiss film
VITUS and the American drama JOSHUA, the
child at the center of the film is an intelligent
piano prodigy whose parents are at a loss to
understand him. Seeing these two films so close
together, I was struck by how much they shared
and how different they were. The latter devolves
into a psychological thriller, while the former is
a gentler, more straightforward drama. One film
examines the darker impulses of genius while
the other focuses on the more positive ones.

VITUS (pronounced VEE-tus) was the 2006
Swiss entry for the Foreign Language Academy
Award and was shown at the 2007 Tribeca Film
Festival. Since last year saw an abundance of
great movies worldwide, it is no surprise that
this film, designed to please audiences, didn't
make the cut (when in previous years it may
very well have). The crux of the film, directed
Fredi M. Murer who co-authored the screenplay
along with Peter Luisi and Lukas B. Suter, is
that Vitus (played as a six-year old by Fabrizio
Borsani and a twelve-year old by Teo Gheorghiu)
just wants to have a "normal" childhood.
Instead, his parents, Leo (Urs Jucker), an
engineer and inventor for an electronics
business, and Helen (Julika Jenkins), are
overprotective and a bit awestruck by their
progeny. They understand that their son is
gifted -- an IQ of 180, the ability to play piano
by ear -- but they don't quite know how to
express their feelings. Instead, they trot out the
youngster and have him perform a difficult piano
piece for company (including dad's boss and the
boss' son who clearly holds dad in contempt).

For his part, Vitus prefers the company of his
paternal grandfather (Bruno Ganz), who putters
around his decaying home, doing carpentry work
and regaling his impressionable grandson with
his thwarted dreams of wanting to become a
pilot. Since Vitus has a fascination with bats,
Grandpa builds him a pair of bat wings and we
see the youngster running around attempting to
take flight.

Those wings will become key for Vitus in the
future. Six years later, the pre-teen boy is now
attending secondary school as a means to
challenge him intellectually, although socially he
remains a bit awkward. Fed up with being picked
on by his older classmates (who have dubbed
him "the Professor"), he mouths off at his
teachers. When his mother arranges for him to
study with a noted female teacher, the boy
completely balks, refusing to play for her and
declaring his intention to become a veterinarian.
Later, he will don the bat wings and go sailing
off the balcony of his parents' high rise
apartment.

The resulting injuries appear to have had a
detrimental effect on his IQ and his musical
abilities and his devastated parents try to cope
with this suddenly "ordinary" child who will no
longer fulfill all the various dreams they held for
him.

Of course, there's a twist which Grandpa first
discovers and which leads to various
adventures, including dabbling in the stock
market and the purchase of both a flight
simulator and later a small aircraft.

VITUS is a pleasantly enjoyable movie that
audiences will find entertaining. In addition to
the rich classical music on its score (with piano
solos played by Gheorgiu who is a real-life
musical prodigy), the film boasts strong
performances by Ganz as the understanding
grandparent and Jenkins and Jucker as the boy's
parents. If there are a few missteps, like Vitus'
infatuation with his former babysitter, they can
easily be overlooked in the grand scheme.


Rating:                B
MPAA Rating:        PG for mild thematic
                           elements and
                           language
Running time:       100 mins.

   
Viewed at the Sony Screening Room
Teo Gheorghiu as Vitus (age 12) in VITUS
© 2006 VITUSFILM GMBH, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.
All Rights Reserved./© 2007 Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.