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Strokes of a Genius

Vitus asks tough questions about child prodigies

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Director Fredi M. Murer has said that Vitus is a film about childhood. Specifically, it's a film about the struggle children face in following the prescribed future as set before them by their well-meaning parents or in seeking their own destiny on their own terms. As a mathematical and piano prodigy, Vitus himself is not the ideal archetype of an angst-ridden pre-teen.

Played by real-life piano prodigy 14-year-old Teo Gheorghiu, Vitus is from an upper-class Swiss family. He completes high school by age 12 and is a master of the piano as only few renowned musicians have been. His childhood is spent in near social isolation, his schoolmates are years older than he is, his free time is almost completely consumed by the piano and his only friend is his aging grandfather. Nothing about Vitus' life is normal and, ironically, normal is all he wants to be.

The most genius moment of the film, however, is not in Vitus' piano playing or his smart comments. It's his duplicity. After sustaining a traumatic head injury, Vitus re-enters life as an ordinary 12-year-old child. This "normal" version of Vitus struggles with homework and is no longer a piano virtuoso. His parents mourn the loss of their child's exceptional gifts and grapple with accepting the boy Vitus has become.

Gheorghiu's extraordinary talents not only in music, but also in acting (a skill the teenager reportedly developed rather quickly after being cast in the starring role), are the undeniable center around which the entire film is spun. He's so well-suited for the role, in fact, you have to wonder if the script wasn't redrafted around the young musician's incredible abilities. Gheorghiu, however, inherits the role nearly a half-hour into the film from a charming young Fabrizio Borsani, who plays the introverted and frightfully talented 6-year-old Vitus. Despite being flanked by an all-star international cast, neither of the two young actors stumble. Instead, both take on the role of Vitus comfortably despite the character's inherent awkwardness.

From beginning to end, the film is a captivating glance into genius, although the last scene of the film is clearly the genius not of Vitus, but of Gheorghiu. In a final performance, a grand finale of sorts, the pianist playing to a sold-out concert hall is not the character, but the actor. The difference between Gheorghiu as Vitus and Gheorghiu as himself is almost imperceptible, but it's apparent just enough to leave the audience feeling like an outstanding film has fallen ever so slightly short.

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