2007, Movie, PG, 123 mins


Veteran Swiss filmmaker Fredi M. Murer's sentimental fable about a child prodigy and his difficulty fitting in with a world of ordinary people is poised somewhere between SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISHER (1993) and LITTLE MAN TATE (1991) and aimed squarely at a family audience.

Prodigy Vitus von Holzen (Fabrizio Borsani) lives with his English mother, Helen (Julika Jenkins), and Swiss father, Leo (Urs Jucker), who quickly realize that he's something special: frighteningly smart, especially at math, and a precociously talented pianist, but at the same time a little boy capable of whispering to his beloved grandfather (Bruno Ganz) that when he grows up, he's going to marry his 13-year-old babysitter, aspiring rock star Isabel (Kristina Lykowa). Helen quits her job to manage Vitus' education, while Leo jockeys for position at Phonaxis, a family-owned company that specializes in sophisticated audio technology. Leo is the company's most innovative engineer — his new hearing-aid design just might make the Hoffmann family very, very rich — but the boss' son, Nick (Daniel Rohr), has never liked Leo and makes little effort to hide his patronizing contempt.

Six years later, Vitus (Teo Gheorghiu) is excelling at a top-flight music conservatory, where he regularly shows up his teachers in class. But the burden of being extraordinary has begun to weigh heavily on him. He's fascinated by flight, an interest shared only by his retired grandfather, and he wants a girlfriend. Specifically, he wants Isabel (Tamara Scarpellini), now a beautiful, outgoing teenager who works in a record store. Above all, Vitus wants to be "normal," and he eventually resorts to a desperate plan: He throws himself from a balcony and stages the fall so that it looks as though he was experimenting incautiously with a beautifully crafted pair of wood-and-canvas wings built by his grandfather. Head injuries are mysterious things, the doctors murmur, and Vitus' injury has mysteriously wiped out all evidence that he's a genius — except that he still is. He uses his exceptional intelligence to remake his life, withdrawing from the grueling practice schedule of a virtuoso in training, then using his math smarts to tackle the root of his family's unhappiness: money. Murer claimed that for years before VITUS was produced, he dreamed of making a "realistic" film about childhood. While this drama of a gifted child can hardly be called realistic, it's a sympathetic portrait of a childhood overshadowed by loneliness and the constant feeling of being an outsider. Neither Borsani nor Gheorghiu are child actors, but both are gifted pianists and the film benefits from not having to cheat the shots of them playing. Still, it is ultimately a simplistic film that will play better to youngsters who wish their grandpas were this cool and to parents who are nostalgic for the kind of exceptional childhood they neither had nor can provide for their own children. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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