The burdens of genius

Monday, June 4th, 2007 | All Things, Film

Looking out the window of Yum Thai on West 44th Street:

Times Square neon

The penultimate film seminar of the season. Tonight: Vitus, Switzerland’s shortlisted submission to the 2006 Academy Awards. The dialogue is in Swiss German with English subtitles, making it the third consecutive foreign film shown this year. As with our last non-American film, there was no guest speaker, so host Scott Siegel led tonight’s post-screening discussion solo.

Scott Siegel

Childhood is often a struggle, but for Vitus (pronounced: VEE-tus), the highly precocious boy of the title, it is more complicated than for most. As a young piano prodigy, with an off-the-charts IQ, he is forced from an early age to figure out how to live with a gift that has become a burden.

He is preciously portrayed as a wide-eyed six-year old by Fabrizio Borsani in his acting debut. By the time he turns twelve, much of the joy seems to have been drained from young Vitus, now played by real-life Canadian-Romanian prodigy Teo Gheorghiu (who also happens to speak perfect Swiss-German.) Vitus’ well-meaning parents (Swiss stage actors Julika Jenkins and Urs Jucker), aggressively cultivate their only child’s talents, at the seeming expense of his personal development. In a lesser film, the couple would have been portrayed as nightmarish caricatures of stage parents; not so here. One senses quite vividly, that theirs is a close familial unit, borne of much love and (albeit sometimes misguided) support. In his classes, among teenagers who regard Vitus as a freak of nature, the boy alternates between arrogant and sullen – defense against his internal struggles with social awkardness and loneliness. Vitus’ primary companionship comes in the form of his kindly, eccentric grandfather, played by Bruno Ganz, an award-winning Swiss actor heretofore best known for his portrayal of Adolf Hitler in 2004’s Der Untergang – Hitler und das Ende des Dritten Reichs (The Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich). It is during their afternoons together that the germ of an idea forms in Vitus’ mind: as his grandfather advises, to decide what you must be, you sometimes have to part with things you love.

What follows is an elaborate ruse, in which Vitus feigns a head injury which renders him no longer gifted, or rather: absolutely normal. His mother, who has invested her entire life in nurturing his special genius, is bitterly disappointed. Vitus, however, is liberated, finally making friends his own age, and reveling in his new freedom. Almost imperceptibly, the film shifts tone from drama to almost comedy, to fantasy, as Vitus and his grandfather (his only co-conspirator) devise ways to employ their secret to the family’s financial advantage.

Along the way, there are some delightful scenes between the boy and his grandfather, and a few between Vitus and Isabel (Tamara Scarpellini), his former babysitter, now 19. When he invites her to a fancy restaurant to propose marriage, his argument is serious and utterly rational: informing her that she is the love of his life, and attempting to convince her that their seven-year age gap coincides perfectly with the difference in life expectancy between men and women, and with the discrepancy in the ages of their respective sexual peaks.

Haha, go, cougars!

There are 3 Comments ... The burdens of genius

June 19, 2007

I can’t wait, I can’t wait!

June 20, 2007

Trashtastic! (Thanks for the link.)

June 20, 2007

hey, how many ‘to vanessa’ inscribed books do you have at this point?

Go for it ...