Film gives child’s view of ’70s Brazil
Brazil, 1970. The country is in the hands of a harsh and repressive military dictatorship. Pel’eacute; just scored his thousandth goal and is preparing to lead the Brazilian team into the World Cup of Soccer. In The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, writer-director Cao Hamburger deftly tells the story of this tumultuous year through the eyes of an abandoned 12-year-old boy named Mauro, played by Michel Joelsas.
When Mauro’s leftist parents are forced to flee from the reaches of the regime, they have no choice but to leave Mauro with his grandfather in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Sao Paulo. Oblivious to the political upheaval around him, Mauro’s most pressing concern is the lineup of the Brazilian World Cup squad.
Washed with a quintessentially ’70s color palette of oranges and browns, the film follows Mauro through overwhelming uncertainty concerning his parents’ return and boyhood fascination with the alien world of Jewish tradition in which he has found himself. With his parents’ "vacation" growing longer, he is reluctantly taken in by an elderly neighbor named Shlomo (Germano Haiut), who offers Mauro guidance and secretly attempts to uncover the whereabouts of Mauro’s parents.
The film is carried on the back of Joelsas’ powerful and wise performance. This is no small feat for a child actor, particularly considering the cringe-inducing performances we’ve come to expect from kids his age. A diverse and colorful array of supporting players help the film along, including a young girl who takes an immediate liking to Mauro, an Italian communist who feels obligated to help the son of his absent comrades, and the sexy shop girl whose motorcycle-riding black boyfriend Mauro longs to emulate. After watching him play goalkeeper in a local soccer game, Mauro reveals his inner desire to "be black and fly." He decides to become one of the world’s greatest goalies.
Despite being surrounded by new friends and generous neighbors, Mauro’s existence remains lonely and uncertain. He anxiously awaits a phone call from his parents that seems less likely to come with each passing day. As the World Cup begins, the entire country grinds to a breathless halt to watch the game, rapturously erupting with each goal scored. It seems the characters, , briefly put aside their differences and unite behind their soccer team. With all the turmoil going on around them, they share a similar passion for sport – whether that’s necessarily a good thing is debatable.
Because it’s told from Mauro’s perspective, soccer plays an important role in the film; however, the beauty of this movie is the way in which Hamburger is able to quietly infuse sociopolitical commentary into what is essentially a coming-of-age story. The message is not heavy-handed or blatant and never discloses anything in an overly obvious way. Mauro remains innocent, so the gravity of political turmoil is revealed in small doses through the adults around him. Likewise, Hamburger does well to avoid cliches that tend to plague similar coming-of-age films.
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation is at times touching and heartwarming, but often laugh-out-loud funny. As a group of communists huddle around a small television to watch the opening match of the World Cup between Brazil and Czechoslovakia, one of them proclaims, "a victory for Czechoslovakia is a victory for Socialism." They breathe a collective sigh of relief when the Brazilians eventually take the lead.
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation is a gentle and poignant comedy about growing up, political upheaval, clashing cultures and the things that unite us all. It is definitely worth the trip.