VITUS (Fredi M. Murer). 123 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (July 13). Rating: NNN
Title character Vitus is a highly intelligent piano prodigy uneasy with his gift. At 12, he decides to give up music. Swiss writer/director Fredi M. Murer's emotionally ambiguous and complex drama neither trivializes the problems of the very smart nor entirely trusts its own apparent message.
The weight of the film rests squarely on Vitus's shoulders, and both actors who play him are fully up to the job. Fabrizio Borsani (Vitus at six) is always thoughtful, both responsive and reserved. He can't help being cute and lovable - it's those big eyes.
But Murer isn't selling cute. Vitus's behaviour is often bad, and no more justified than that of any six-year-old.
Teo Gheorghiu (Vitus at 12) has the heedless arrogance of the super-smart and the hunched shoulders of the oppressed. Even when he's with his beloved grandpa (European film veteran Bruno Ganz), he barely relaxes, and his playing expresses obsession and anger more than musical beauty. Though we're interested in the kid and at times fear for him, we don't always like him.
Julika Jenkins and Urs Jucker as Vitus's parents give fine, naturalistic performances and, along with Ganz, are strong enough to let us go along with the movie's implausible second half.
Throughout, Murer keeps his visuals simple, his camera on his cast and his storytelling neutral. Even in the seemingly uplifting finale, he includes a strong undercurrent of doubt.