By Matt Singer
[Photo: “Vitus,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]
The movies are filled with adolescent fantasies sometimes, particularly during the summer, it seems the movies are only adolescent fantasies but rarely with pre-pubescent ones, particularly those that do not involve animated talking animals. The reason, I suspect, is as much biological as anything else. It is much easier to remember yourself at age 18 than at age 12. The creators of the marvelous little film “Vitus” are as in touch with this inner tween as any filmmakers have ever been. If I’m as in touch with my inner tween as they are with theirs, I think I can say that children of that age would adore this movie, if only they’d get the opportunity to see it. I regret that many will not.
The official Swiss selection for the 2006 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, and the winner of that country’s top cinematic prize, “Vitus” concerns a remarkably gifted young boy blessed with an incredible intellect and a preternatural ability for the piano. We first see him as a precocious six-year-old (played with a maturity beyond his years by Fabrizio Borsani), then later as that crucial 12-year old (an even better Teo Gheorghiu). Young Vitus is so smart he can’t really be taught, by teachers or by anyone else, and his parents, feeling the weight of responsibility that comes with having a “gifted” child, yank him out of school and let him concentrate on becoming a great piano virtuoso.
Vitus doesn’t dislike playing piano who would, if they were that good at it? but he also yearns for something resembling a normal childhood. At age 12, Vitus has surpassed his older high school classmates and his parents are pressuring him to decide what to do with the rest of his life. It is here that director Fredi M. Murer and his co-writers Peter Luisi and Lukas B. Suter begin to display their innate knowledge of childhood psychology: of those twin desires to both belong and to stand out; of the fascination with women without the accompanying physical capability to act upon it; of the desire to do all of those things you’re “not old enough” for without losing those things that make being a kid great.
“Vitus” has all of this in a package that is funny and sweet but never maudlin. Gheorghiu is not only a gifted child actor but a piano player in his own right, and the movie puts his talents to great use in several astounding sequences. Children would love his performance, along with pretty much everything else about this movie, but getting them to actually see it seems a difficult proposition. Aside from the obvious language barrier (let’s face it even adults with reasonable attention spans complain about subtitled movies), movies like “Vitus,” European productions with arty pedigrees, get small releases and are marketed to and seen by a much older audience. Let us hope that audiences can still connect with their inner 12-year-old, and then bring the real 12-year-olds they know to see “Vitus” for themselves.
“Vitus” opens in limited release on June 29th (official site).