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.