A severe case of upstaging, occasioned by a veteran actor and a wayward script that could take a few lessons in structure from the master composers whose brilliance populates the soundtrack, leaves this promising film far behind the pack of “child as wunderkind” films. Madame Sousatzka plays rings around this latest attempt by Fredi M. Murer.
The chronicle of a boy genius who can’t abide the ignorance of those around him and whose talent for the piano should propel him to the world’s finest concert halls doesn’t really lift off until Bruno Ganz as the fedora-wearing grandfather slips onto the screen and tops his co-actors in every scene. From his subtle reaction visages to the taunting of Vitus (Fabrizio Borsani, the younger; Teo Gheorghiu, the older) to the unbridled grin of joy when fulfilling life’s wish to fly with the birds before perishing in an Icarus moment of his own, Ganz overwhelms his colleagues with his subtle brilliance. With him on every turn of the magnificent flight path is Pio Corradi’s first-rate photography.
Unforgettable, and worth the price of admission alone, is a sequence when Vitus and his chum circle each other on their bikes. Both wear headsets blaring classical or rock, respectively, into their ears. Film editor Myriam Flury and sound editor Patrick Storck morph Corradi’s separate point of “hearing” shots into a Moment Musicale extraordinaire. Merci mille fois!
The writing trust (Murer, Peter Luisi, Lukas B. Suter) launch so many strands of storyline that the art soon slips into the background only to return in an extended coda where conductor Howard Griffiths and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra struggle through the final measures of Schumann’s A Minor Piano Concerto with Gheorghiu earnestly flying through the passages, which adds credibility (proving the wisdom of one of his sage teacher’s words, needs “a bit more boring”) while his stereotypical parents (Mother perilously pushy, Father wedded to work) use a videocam to capture the proceedings. Here’s a perfect example of stretching our credibility (Vitus becomes a millionaire as readily as he recalls and plays the Goldberg Variations from a single listening) then bursting any remaining notion of disbelief: no concert hall of any standing in the world would allow such a bulky recording device in the door. Sure, that action paid off with the hilarious rock star scene (Vitus and his babysitter get a bit tipsy and boogie with a broom, unwittingly captured by Dad’s motion-sensitive camera).
The bonding of grandfather and grandson will engage many audiences and their collective rebellion will cheer younger/older generations everywhere, but—sadly—the belief espoused by Madame Fois (compassionately brought to life by Heidy Forster) that music can only be played when it “comes from the heart,” sounds laudable, yet can’t fight its way into the foreground of this frustratingly uneven production. JWR