Vitus may be the best of the occasionally explored film genre about child prodigies, of which Little Man Tate, Searching for Bobby Fischer, (half of) Shine, and (one-tenth of) Magnolia are notables. In Vitus, the titular youngster is shown at ages 6 (Fabrizio Borsani) and 12 (Teo Gheorghiu, himself gifted) as his genius piano ability is discovered and cultivated by his parents, Helen (Julika Jenkins) and Leo (Urs Jucker). Vitus' grandfather (Bruno Ganz), a charmer, figures prominently in the talented youth's life as well.
Vitus is a curious and clever boy and is very easy to root for. When he rebels, it's not the snotty flare-ups of a kid trying to deal with his exceptionality relative to his peers. Rather, it's against his parents, who push him in directions he's reluctant to go. Vitus just wants to be normal; his parents, of course, want what's best for him, which in their opinion is for him to not be normal.
The film scores big points by doing right by Helen and Leo. Like many parents, they load expectations onto their kids by assuming them to be special at something. When their child turns out to actually be gifted, Helen and Leo aren't surprised. They make mistakes in raising Vitus, but they're no villains. Vitus also understands the audience's own strong desire and need, as they become foster parents of a sort, to see the child prodigy be a success and gain renown.
With its keen ear and eye for the psychology of parenting — and without scrimping on entertainment value and charm — Vitus is a joy to watch.
Opens Friday, September 14th, at Ridgeway Four.