MOVIE REVIEW by Willard Manus

VITUS is a modern-day Swiss fairytale. The feature by Fredi M. Murer was Switzerland's official entry for the 2006 foreign-language Oscar award and won the Audience Award at last year's AFI fest. Now, after successful European runs, VITUS (pronounced Vee-tus) has been released locally and should do well at the box office, thanks to its charming, slightly fantastical treatment of the coming-of-age theme.

Murer, director of such previous works as Alpine Fire and Vollmond, focuses on the life of an exceptionally gifted child, named Vitus of course. Born with a dazzling combination of intelligence and musical gifts, Vitus (played by real-life piano prodigy Teo Gheorgiu) has a tough time growing up. He's too smart and precocious for the other kids (and most of his teachers), is over-protected by his mother (Julika Jenkins), and forced to practice scales when he'd rather be out kicking around a soccer ball.

About the only time he can have a normal childhood is when he spends time with his grandfather (Bruno Ganz), a cabinet-maker who provides him with the kind of wisdom, love and understanding that he doesn't find elsewhere. The warmth and richness of their relationship provides VITUS with much of its humanity and humor, and accounts for the way the film connects with its audience.

Vitus himself is a well-drawn character, with a lot of surprising and amusing sides. He doesn't just learn about life from grandpa but figures out a way to save him from financial ruin. Using his mathematical and computer skills--and some inside knowledge of his father's (Urs Jucker) tech business--he goes online to play the stock market and earn the old codger a pot of dough.

Here is where VITUS moves past its realistic portrait of a child prodigy and enters the fanciful realm. Vitus not only makes his grandfather rich but helps to patch up his parent's marriage. He also rediscovers his urge to play the piano, leading to a concert-hall triumph at the age of twelve. Call it a Swiss-style Hollywood ending.

The feel-good aspects of VITUS are explored by Murer in a manipulative way, but not to such a degree that they spoil things. Thanks to the cast's splendid acting and the overall spirit and universality of the story--a paean to the joys and sorrows of childhood--VITUS is a film well worth investigating.