Film director Fredi Murer fulfills his childhood dreamsby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
When Fredi Murer was a boy, he dreamed of playing the piano like Mozart, doing math like Einstein, and flying like Icarus. None of it came true.
Now, 60 years later, Murer is a film director. His new film "Vitus" depicts how he wishes things could have been.
St. Paul, Minn. — Growing up in Switzerland in the 1940's Fredi Murer had a wretched time in school.
He was left-handed. The Swiss teachers forced him to write with his right hand.
He discovered much later, he was also dyslexic. His essays returned riddled with red marks.
Murer got so frustrated that one day he turned in an essay as a series of pictures. The teacher called him to the front of the class. He says he expected to get boxed ears. Instead the teacher had him tell the class his story.
And it was the first big success" Murer says in his slightly twisted English. "All the class applauded. Looking back in this time, actually this storyboard was sort of my first movie."
Murer went on to be a successful film maker with more than a dozen films to his credit. He's long wanted to make movie exploring childhood. But it was only recently that he created the story of Vitus, an 11 year old child prodigy who is a concert pianist, and a math genius.
"Vitus is fulfilling of an unfullfilled dream of my childhood. So it's autobiographic, but in an opposite way," he says.
Vitus's story is far from simple.
Yes, he has the intellectual capabilities of a very smart adult, but Murer stresses he's still a child. His parents push Vitus to develop his potential, alienating him with tragic consequences. It is only his grandfather, a carpenter, who encourages Vitus to remember boyish things, giving Vitus the run of his workshop.
Then the boy's father loses his job. This is where real life intersects again. Murer's father's business went bankrupt.
"As a small boy I really was thinking all night, stay(ing) awake, how I can help my father. And I couldn't," Murer says.
In Murer's story Vitus finds extraordinary ways to escape his own troubles and help his family.
In making the film Murer faced a major hurdle. To make a believable film, he needed a real piano prodigy. In fact as the story covered a number of years, he really needed two prodigies: a five year old and an 11 year old. And preferably fluent in Swiss-German.
Murer searched for months. Then he went to London and visited the Purcell School for Gifted Young Musicians.
"I found a boy who is really, not a story, but is really identical to my fictional character, Vitus," he says. The boy was Teo Gheorghiu, 11 years old, Romanian by birth, Canadian by passport, and fluent in four languages, including Swiss German. And a brilliant pianist.
A few weeks later Murer found Fabrizio Borsani a kindergartener also with prodigious keyboard skills.
Working with the boys could be challenging. One day Fabrizio announced he was an octopus and couldn't speak for the day.
On the other hand Teo's mind was so fast he quickly become impatient with the slow pace of film making. However Bruno Ganz, the German star who plays Vitus' grandfather, took Teo under his wing, and would walk him around the set as the crew prepared for the next shot.
Despite these hiccups the effort seems to have worked. Murer's film was the Swiss entry for the Oscars last year, and it has been an audience favorite at festivals around the world.
"It's a little bit (of) a fairytale," he says. "But based on observations of reality."
Soon Murer will be off to China where "Vitus" will become the first Swiss film ever distributed in that country. In the mean time Teo Gheorghiu, now 14, is regularly performing in the concert halls of Europe.
- Morning Edition, 07/27/2007, 7:50 a.m.