It has been hard for me to decide what to make of the Swiss film Vitus. It is part Little Man Tate, part Searching for Bobby Fisher, and a bit of Big.
Fredi Murer directs a film about a child prodigy, VItus (Fabrizio Borsani plays Vitus at 6, Teo Gheorghiu plays the 12 year old Vitus). In essence, there is nothing that Vitus cannot do. The early part of the film focuses on Vitus’s abilities with the piano. Helen (Julika Jenkins) and Leo (Urs Jucker) are the beaming parents of a child they come to take for granted both for his abilities and his charm; occasionally they run into a very truculent child (normal for the age, but intensified because of the intellectual capacity). This continues as Vitus ages. Because he is smarter than anyone teaching him, he is basically expelled from school. Then the questions about what he wants to be when he grows up naturally arise given that it is a common question for some of 12. He has no answer except that he wants to be normal.
Always interested in flight, Vitus takes a set of bat-type wings he and his grandfather (Bruno Ganz) made when Vitus was younger. He leaps from their balcony and gravity does what it will do. I won’t spoil the plot, so I’ve said what I will about it.
Mr. Borsani is a very strong actor. The reactions between him and his parents are very natural. Helen and Leo do have a slight edge of being proud parents of a well trained monkey, but it is only around the edges of their relationship with Vitus. Neither Ms. Jenkins nor Mr. Jucker gets in the way of either version of Vitus with regards to their performances.
The real story and relationship is between Vitus and his grandfather. Each version of Vitus acts extremely well with Mr. Ganz. They share the special relationship between a grandfather who is both playmate and teacher.
The jump from 6 to 12 is ham-fisted. The link between the two ages are three subplots that don’t really work that well together. If I go into detail it would give too much away; however these subplots are really the controlling metaphor for the entire film so the weaker they are the more strained the story, of course.
Vitus won fairly high acclaim and not all of it was wasted; however, in the final rinse cycle, I think at least a decent sized part of it hit a series of very flat notes. I really wanted to like the film for a host of reasons. Some of them were met, most were not. But if you like films like Little Man Tate and Billy Elliot then I doubt you will be totally disappointed here. I’m a bit of a maven of this type of film, so I tend to be a little hypercritical at times. The easiest way to put it is that there was nothing in the film that I could really hold on to in a way that made me truly like anyone except the grandfather.
If you do not like any or most of the films listed, then there is no reason to watch Vitus. On the other hand, if you do, then your time will not be wasted—maybe just not quite as well spent.
What did you think of this review?