Dir: Fredi M Murer. Switz. 2006. 120mins.
From an opening that suggests a feelgoodchildren's fantasy, Vitusturns into a much odder confection - an intelligent, spiky, sometimes movingcomedy-drama with a satirical eye turned on the Swiss bourgeoisie.
Directed by Helvetic veteran Fredi M. Murer, best known for his 1985 Alpine Fire, Vitusis an imaginative look at the woes and joys attendant on child genius. Withechoes of both Shine and JodieFoster's child-prodigy film Little ManTate, it is drolly insightful in a way that should please adults, whilestill meeting the requirements of a family-friendly crowd-pleaser (although the12-year-old hero is so prodigious that kids his age may well feel like slappinghim).
With a charismaticBruno Ganz as the icing on the cake, Vitus standsevery chance of selling well, although it could stand having its two-hourrunning time reined in a touch. The film played at Berlin in Panorama Special.
First seen aged six,and played by Fabrizio Borsani,Vitus is a hyper-intelligent moppet with precociouspiano talents, nurtured by sympathetic but over-protective parents; English mumHelen (Jenkins) and boffin dad Leo (Jucker).
When the familygo up in the world, thanks to Leo's invention of a super-sensitive hearing aid,Vitus is subject to even more fevered hot-housing ontheir part, until the day when, aged 12 (and played by TeoGheorghiu), he suffers a fall that apparently reduceshis abilities to those of any child his age. Apparently, that is - for Vitus is even smarter than he seems, and starts using histalents in a scheme to ensure the happiness of his parents and his eccentricgrandfather (Ganz).
A relativelyrealistic narrative takes an imaginative leap into borderline fairytaleterritory in the second half, as Vitus spreads hiswings as a financial wizard. Implausible though this flight of fancy is, Murer's conventional but confident direction and hislikeable cast keep the audience engaged.
There are toomany loose threads for comfort: the hearing aid theme, which gives rise to someextremely clever sound design, never leads anywhere and Vitus'sdifficulties as the school nerd fizzle out just when they're gettinginteresting.
But gentletilting at Swiss values sustains the narrative: Vitus'sincreasingly pampered parents are the film's satirical focus, but they remainsympathetic thanks especially to Jenkins.
Bruno Ganz is dependably mischievous, but generally resists thetemptation to twinkle, and the two young Vituses arejust snotty and swotty enough not to be too abrasive.
The film'snovelty trump card is that young actor Gheorghiu is areal-life piano prodigy, so that Vitus' keyboarddazzle is for real.
Fredi M Murer
Fredi M Murer
Lukas B Suter