foreign films

Made in: Switzerland
Language: Swiss-German, German, English
Director: Fredi Murer
Starring: Teo Gheorghiu, Bruno Ganz, Julika Jenkins, Urs Jucker, Tamara Scarpellini, Eleni Haupt
Year: 2006

Synopsis: At age twelve, a gifted Swiss piano prodigy (Teo Gheorghiu) amazes those around him with his amazing musical abilities. But young Vitus von Holzen, also a mathematical genius, is already attending high school and interacting with students who are much older than he is. He's also a little wise-ass, and his sharp, but mostly subtle, sense of sarcasm usually rubs his teachers the wrong way.

His mother Helen (Julika Jenkins), and father Leo (Urs Jucker), are pushy and over-protective, often setting high goals for him in the name of "fostering his talent." The boy's only escape from misguided parental expectations is time spent with his grandfather (Bruno Ganz), a sage but simple loner with a passion for flying.

Things get complicated when the prodigy suffers an apparent head injury. Will he finally have a chance at being a normal child? But when the family encounters financial challenges, the true nature of the boy's genius is revealed.

The Good: Director Fredi Murer does a great job creating a set of believable characters. With the thematic material, it's so easy to turn the pushy parents into caricatures. But Julika Jenkins and Urs Jucker, as Vitus' parents, are very realistic in their loving but misguided attempt at raising their child.

And although Teo Gheorghiu certainly looks the part of a geeky genius, he brings an in-depth, humorous charm to the story. And of course, the venerable Bruno Ganz accomplishes the role as the cheeky grandfather with ease.

What's best about Vitus is that it never gets stuck on the protagonist and his genius. Yes, it's great to see this young kid play difficult piano pieces with the skill of a seasoned master, but the film does not plod through "filler" scenes just to set up the next performance. Instead, Fredi Murer stays focused on telling a coherent story about people and the idea of happiness.

The Bad: At one point, the boy is seen making friends his own age. It's not a major gripe, but a little more time could have been spent on watching him interact with others as a "normal" kid, to contrast the life he had before.

Who would like this movie: Vitus is for you if you like foreign films and dramas about the the philosophy of happiness. If you like languages, this film has plenty of fascinating moments. Much of the time, the actors switch between Swiss German, "regular" German, and English.

Although many of the themes are universal, those who are musicians, or appreciate classical music, will probably appreciate this film a little more. Although it's long (at roughly two hours), it's a very well-made film with a solid story.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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