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Reliving childhood as a musical genius

July 02, 2007|Susan King

As a boy, Swiss filmmaker Fredi M. Murer wanted to be a genius. But that wasn't the case. "I was terribly normal," he says with a sigh.

So Murer is having a second childhood of sorts with his charming drama "Vitus," which opens Friday.

Real-life child prodigy Teo Gheorghiu plays the precocious Vitus, who at the age of 12 is a gifted pianist and a brilliant mathematician. His parents have high expectations for their only child, but his exacting mother, his father's financial problems and the pressure of the lengthy daily piano practices take their toll. The only person who treats him like a normal boy is his eccentric carpenter grandfather (Bruno Ganz).

"Vitus," says the 66-year-old Murer, is based on his memories as a child, feeling "lonely and under pressure and punished with love."

The film chronicles the character's life from ages 5 to 12 because, Murer says, "this time for me was the most exciting, the most fantastic and the most anxious. Everything is possible. So I sat down and asked myself what happened to myself during this time. It turns out that I always wanted to be a musician and a good mathematician. But I was actually the opposite of a child prodigy."

Murer did imbue Vitus with several autobiographical qualities, including his interest in Leonardo da Vinci's flying inventions. Like Vitus, Murer built and tried unsuccessfully to operate one of the inventor's flying apparatuses -- without his parents noticing it. "I smuggled the wings to the mountains and ran down the hill," he says. "I woke up in the hospital with a skull fracture."

After the injury, he suffered learning difficulties. Despite that, his carpenter father pushed him to become a lawyer and sent him to a private school.

"My mother wrote several novels, but she was never successful. So she pushed me to become an artist. They both wanted to do the best for me. They did it with love, but they did so many things wrong."

The only person who supported him was his grandmother, "who acts a bit like the grandfather in the movie," he says.

Murer, who began as a photographer before moving into directing features and documentaries 40 years ago, says children today endure even more pressure than when he was growing up. "Often parents project their own unfulfilled wishes on their children," he says.


-- Susan King

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