Vitus (2006)

“The hardest part was losing that game of chess.”

When I read the synopsis of the film Vitus, the story of a child prodigy, I wasn’t interested in watching it, but then a film friend convinced me it was worth seeing. Vitus takes a refreshingly different approach to its subject and turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.

Married couple Helen (Julika Jenkins) and Leo von Holzen (Urs Jucker) are both intelligent people, and they produce an only son, Vitus. By the time Vitus (Fabrizio Borsani) is 6, it’s clear that the von Holzens have a prodigy on their hands, and the von Holzens steer their son towards a musical career. At 6, Vitus is a charming child, already well aware and quite in control of his talent. But by the time he’s 12, Vitus (Teo Gheorghiu) has a number of social and emotional problems.

While Leo, an inventor struggles with his career, Helen von Holzen concentrates on Vitus. Making the decision to give up her career to focus on an ambitious future for Vitus, Helen makes many mistakes as she removes people and obstacles from Vitus’s life that have the potential to distract him. Removed from his peers, Vitus, at 12 is precocious, and sometimes obnoxious.

Vitus’s grandfather, played with adept charm by Bruno Ganz is ultimately the only adult in Vitus’s world who is content to develop a purely emotional relationship with this remarkable boy. In the context of their relationship, with its secrets often withheld from Vitus’s parents, Vitus is allowed to develop his imagination. And in this instance, Vitus’s imagination turns out to be a highly profitable thing.

Vitus seems at time to be a miniature adult in a child’s form. With strict control over his emotions, he develops an obsession with an older girl who was his babysitter once. While the last part of the film is somewhat fanciful, the main idea remains that having a child like Vitus is a terrific responsibility, and one that is ultimately very easy to ruin. The film managed to avoid coyness, and cloyingly sweet sentimentality, and instead this crowd-pleasing film presents an unemotional picture of a brilliant child and his parents. Vitus is a Swiss film with German subtitles from director Fredi M. Murer

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