A 12-year-old piano prodigy struggles with his parents, his talent and his future in solid family drama “Vitus.” A natural for kidfests, pic is a fine example of old-fashioned story-telling and also will dance wherever detailed character development and leisurely-paced drama are appreciated.
Already advanced at the age of 6, Vitus (pronounced “Veetus”) von Holzen (Fabrizio Borsani) has hypersensitive hearing and reads the encyclopedia for recreation. He’s the apple of his parents’ eyes: Dad Leo (Urs Jucker) is an inventor on the verge of patenting a revolutionary hearing aid design, while Brit-born mom Helen (Julika Jenkins) is fiercely protective of her son’s talent.
But even at such a tender age, Vitus is already apprehensive about all the attention he receives. The kid takes a shine to his eccentric grandfather (Bruno Ganz) and spends most of his free time hanging around the elder’s workshop listening to his advice and his dreams of flight.
By the age of 12, Vitus (now played by real-life prodigy Teo Gheorghiu) is clearly uncomfortable about being different and deals with this by being precocious. Foolishly jumping off his balcony after donning a pair of wooden wings tooled by his grandfather, the boy hits upon the idea of pretending the fall has robbed him of his talent. While employing this ruse, he helps save Leo’s company and learns a good bit about life in the process.
Working with key creatives that helped shape his similarly ambitious and unfortunately overlooked 1998 “Twin Peaks”-ish child disappearance drama “Full Moon,” which shared the Montreal fest’s grand prize in its year, vet Swiss helmer Fredi M. Murer once again seems to have thought a lot about the issues on display in his film. Thus, “Vitus” can feel overstuffed with ideas about family dynamics, the burden of talent and the risks of capitalism, but for auds willing to submit to its leisurely pace, the effect is enveloping.
A far cry from his befuddled Fuehrer in “Downfall,” Ganz’ rumpled grandpa isn’t in a lot of the story but nevertheless emerges as its serene center. Young Gheorghiu engages the camera with ease, and Jenkins bravely essays a character whose maternal instincts can be more than a little abrasive.
A pair of actresses, Kristina Lykowa and Tamara Scarpellini, are fine as Vitus’ free-spirited babysitter, Isabel, in two stages of the youngster’s life.
Tech package is seductively glossy, with a rich selection of classical piano pieces scattered throughout the proceedings.