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Rushmore with a Swiss-German Accent
by Mel Valentin on Jul 13, 2007
Directed and co-written by Fredi M. Murer (Full Moon, Alpine Fire), Vitus is a leisurely paced, sentimental, whimsical coming of age tale, centered on, like Searching for Bobby Fischer and Little Man Tate before it, a child prodigy trying to make his way in a world that wants to celebrate him for his talents, but simultaneously treat him as a child, with all the lack of choice that treatment implies.
Featuring an appealing, engrossing performance by a real-life musical prodigy, Teo Gheorghiu, in the title role and a strong, supporting turn by European art cinema stalwart Bruno Ganz (Faraway, So Close!, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Wings of Desire), Vitus is never less than watchable, but it also plays it too safe to rise above its old school pretensions.
At six, Vitus von Holzen (Fabrizio Borsani) is no ordinary boy. Gifted with a genius IQ and raw talent behind a piano, Vitus’ parents, Leo (Urs Jucker) and Helen (Julika Jenkins), fret about how best to nurture his talents. While neither parent shares Vitus’ gifts, Leo is an inventor and Helen a business professional. Leo obtains a post at an electronics firm by selling the firm’s owner, Mr. Hoffmann (Norbert Schwientek), on an innovative hearing aid design. Helen decides to abandon her career to nurture Vitus’ talents. Leo and Helen enroll Vitus in a conservatory, hoping that the guidance and instruction provided by the conservatory will lead Vitus into a career as a concert pianist. It’s only when Vitus visits his woodworking-obsessed grandfather (Bruno Ganz) on weekends at his country home that Vitus feels “normal".
At twelve, Vitus (Gheorghiu) splits his time between studying to become a concert pianist (more for his parents than himself) and high school. Younger and smarter than his classmates, Vitus doesn’t fit in, but that doesn’t stop him from making himself noticed, mostly for his disruptive, obnoxious behavior toward his instructors. Exasperated, the principal suggests Vitus take his final exams and move on to college. As his unhappiness and frustration grows, an accident intervenes, changing the future his parents have planned for him. Vitus also begins to learn about the real world: his father’s company is in dire financial straits and his grandfather learns that his retirement pension will dry up after five years, leaving him penniless and, most likely, homeless. Vitus also runs into a long ago crush and former babysitter, Isabel (Tamara Scarpellini), now nineteen.
At first, Vitus hits all the character and story beats we’ve come expect from a coming of age tale. The twist here is that Vitus is far from ordinary and his experiences are only partly universal. His parents’ desire to nurture his talents comes at a cost for Vitus, loneliness and isolation. But what starts off as story about an extraordinarily gifted boy attempting to find his way in a world shifts abruptly into a feel-good wish fulfillment fantasy. To get there, Murer has to rely on Vitus acting illogically; he takes Vitus into Wes Anderson territory, specifically Rushmore.
On the plus side, Teo Gheorghiu gives an unexpectedly strong performance as the title character. Not surprisingly, veteran actor Bruno Ganz is never less than watchable as Vitus’ grandfather and best friend. But their performances do little to make us forget Vitus’ increasingly contrived, consequence-free plot turns, which makes us care less and less about the title character. While this kind of wish fulfillment fantasy may attract moviegoers interested in feel-good entertainment, other moviegoers will end up feeling frustrated and unfulfilled by Vitus’ overlong Hollywood-style ending.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Jul 13, 2007