Alongside the flawlessly pitched domestic creepfest "Joshua," Fredi M. Murer's "Vitus" makes the second movie this summer to feature two confounded parents coping with a son who's young, gifted and bleak.
But wait, not so fast. Unlike the psychological damage wreaked in "Joshua," the plot of "Vitus" winds up taking as many unexpected turns as the tiny plane that serves as one of the film's leitmotifs. Vitus, whom we meet at ages 6 (played by Fabrizio Borsani) and 12 (Teo Gheorghiu), lives with his hip, compassionate parents in Switzerland. Early on, he evinces a talent for the piano as well as a fascination with flying, the latter of which is encouraged by his eccentric grandfather (Bruno Ganz). Vitus's parents aren't pushy -- they resist putting him in a "zoological park," which they derisively call special schools -- but they're not immune to a little parental projection, either. Soon, Vitus's mother (Julika Jenkins), sublimating her own professional ambition, is behaving in ways worthy of a Homer Simpson stranglehold.
But even at her worst, Vitus's mother isn't portrayed as a monster. Among the many strengths of this stylish production is that each character is given his or her due in the course of a story that, like Vitus himself, continually and delightfully defies our expectations. The cast is superb, especially the young actors who portray Vitus; Gheorghiu is a real-life piano prodigy, lending an extra frisson to the intoxicating music that plays throughout the film.
-- Ann Hornaday (July 27, 2007)
Contains mild thematic elements and brief profanity. In English and Swiss German with subtitles.