2007Director: Fredi M. Murer
Cast: Fabrizio Borsani, Bruno Ganz, Teo Gheorghiu
rodigies are the fascinating kind of social anomaly that invites thorough investigation. There's a regrettably cliché template for their stories at this point. Good Will Hunting, Searching for Bobby Fischer—even the recent artist biopics like Ray and Walk the Line all contain the same fundamental storyline: there's an initial discovery of talent followed by a struggle with those who seek to exploit it. Eventually, the protagonist reconciles with his own brilliance.
Vitus tries, often successfully, to break this mold. Unlike the impoverished geniuses found in Good Will Hunting or Finding Forrester, who struggle with the intensity of their own lives and dislike their talent because it makes them less sociable, Vitus deals more with the allure of grandeur. The characters here share a desire to lift themselves above normality, to be envied by all their neighbors and friends.
The story follows the boy Vitus through his uncomfortable childhood as a wunderkind. When he is six, he has trouble maintaining interest in his elementary school, and passes the time reading the dictionary while the rest of his class recites nursery rhymes. His dad, meanwhile, is moving up in his company, and his mom is anxious to seem eloquent and civilized amongst her husband's new class of co-workers. She uses Vitus to impress her new friends at dinner parties.
The young Vitus is played well by Fabrizio Borsani, who captures how adorable and innocent—also, arrogant—this boy is. He has an adult intelligence that conflicts with his youthful and unformed sense of morality, and you see him struggling stubbornly with these mixed emotions. He wants to simply wonder at things the way only a child can, but he is too proud to shy away from boasting his enormous talent. The beginning of the movie is wonderful because it takes its time observing him, showing Vitus absorbing different sounds as he listens to music, and playing the still-too-large keys of a piano with his chubby fingers.
Because of his parents' questionable motives in pressuring him, Vitus is drawn more to his foppish and lonely grandfather, played by Bruno Ganz, who spends his time in a wood shop behind his large and decaying house. Vitus is worth watching just to follow Ganz's work. It's amazing to see a man who played Hitler, bitterly shunning away his inevitable demise in the movie Downfall, shift so perfectly to a quirky and boyish old man content with just loving his grandson. The nervous shivering in his hands he tries to hide in Downfall is replaced with an uncommon stillness, a quiet stoicism that evolved with his age and frailty. The movie, probably unintentionally, becomes Ganz's as a result.
What is disappointing about the film, however, is that you never really get the sense that Vitus enjoys playing the piano. He's certainly smart, but the movie never communicates if he even likes the instrument. With no real force pulling him back to the piano, there's little intensity in his relationship with the wonderful music he's playing. The only time he really uses his vast breadth of knowledge is in one bizarre tangent when he makes a fortune on the stock market. He then buys a luxurious apartment for himself and furtively becomes a businessman. It's cute, but it made me wonder if this movie is really about Vitus the pianist, which is certainly the subject that ties the plot together. So when he finally rebels against his parents and becomes a normal teenager, then, the answer for his rejection is simpler than Vitus would like it to be.
In one fascinating but ultimately unfulfilling moment, Vitus and his grandfather build a set of wooden wings together. Vitus races around a field holding them to his waist, laughing and jumping jubilantly. His mother smiles briefly and says they make him look like Icarus. The legend of Daedalus and Icarus is apparent throughout the film, particularly in the most gorgeous moments shared between Vitus and his grandfather. Incorporating the myth is a powerful choice, but Vitus forgets the dramatic turn of emotions present in Ovid's original story. Daedalus knew, as he strapped the wings to his son, that he was putting Icarus in danger for entirely selfish reasons. But he continued anyway, his hands quaking with guilt and sorrow. Icarus, meanwhile, was so thrilled by his new ability that he didn't even notice he was about to die.
Vitus shows in its characters the same misguided pride that Daedalus and Icarus both carried, but it lowers the stakes. The fact that the family is so entitled makes it seem as if they have nothing to lose. When there are dramatic scenes when loss is apparent, they are followed by lighthearted moments that trivialize the gravity of their own themes. The characters are never truly vulnerable, which they must be in any good story. I guess that's my biggest problem with Vitus. There's nothing that's necessarily bad about it; the filming is good, the acting is mostly strong and often excellent, but the story is, ultimately, too passive.
Vitus is currently in limited release.
By: Yannick LeJacq
Published on: 2007-07-20