At the ripe old age of 6, Vitus (say: Vee-tuss) is a child prodigy who tests off the charts, he has the hearing of a bat, plays piano like the young Mozart, and reads the dictionary for fun.
A gentle fable about how the young boy from Zurich struggles to fit in rather than stand out, Vitus is both a cautionary tale for pushy parents and an endearing, if eccentric, empowerment fantasy for precocious children.
Vitus lives in Zurich, where citizens speak Swiss German, but segue into French and English as the occasion demands.
His grandpa (the delightful Bruno Ganz) is a furniture-maker and tinkerer who dreams, like Icarus, of flying. His dad (Urs Jucker) is an industrial designer who may have invented a breakthrough hearing aid.
His mom (Julika Jenkins) quits her job to micromanage Vitus.
But as his mother becomes a stage mother, replacing Vitus' beloved babysitter and piano teacher, the sensitive boy (played by the 6-year-old Fabrizio Borsani and 12-year-old Teo Gheorghiu, both piano prodigies) feels suffocated.
Away from Zurich's urban sprawl Vitus finds oxygen at Grandfather's rustic spread. Director Fredi Murer juxtaposes the high-rise showplace where Vitus' parents live with grandpa's humbler digs.
Vitus resents the role of trophy child, testament to his parents' genes and genius. He blooms in the company of his role of the beloved grandchild, with a grandparent who treats him as a boy and a confidant. Admittedly, most grandparents wouldn't rely on their spawn to engage in insider trading.
In contrast to the presto tempo of Hollywood movies about and for children, Murer proceeds at the adagio pace, like many of the classical pieces Vitus plays during the course of the film.
This leisurely tempo enables the viewer to see how Grandpa, Dad and Vitus all work with their hands to different effect. While the metaphor here may be too literal for some tastes, Murer shows how our families also give us the wings to fly.
Vitus *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Fredi Murer. With Teo Gheorghiu, Fabrizio Borsani, Julika Jenkins and Bruno Ganz. In Swiss German with subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse and Showcase at the Ritz Center
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http:go.philly.com/