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BERLIN — The surfaces of Cao Hamburger’s fine film, “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” (O Ano em Que Meus Pais Sairam de Ferias) are clean and concise and filled with keen observations about day-to-day life in a multiethnic quarter of Sao Paulo in 1970. This allows the director all sorts of opportunities to explore the rich subtext of his film — themes about alienation, community and a life in exile.
This Brazilian film has the power to reach out to audiences all over the world. So after its Competition debut in Berlin, “Year” is a solid bet to win further festival dates and wide distribution in international territories.
The story, written by the director and Claudio Galperin, Braulio Mantovani and Anna Muylaert, tells of an adolescent boy who finds himself cut loose by fate in a strange community where he has to make friends and fend for himself. Twelve-year-old Mauro (Michel Joelsas) has grown up in a small town, consumed by a love for soccer. The entire country is electrified as its team is marching toward a potential third World Cup in Mexico. Citizens can almost forget they are in the sixth year of a brutal military dictatorship.
Abruptly, Mauro’s mother, who is Catholic, and father, who is Jewish, must “go on vacation.” It’s clear to the viewer but not to Mauro that dangerous politics is forcing them underground. They drive the boy to Sao Paulo and leave him at his grandfather’s apartment building. Unfortunately, the grandfather has dropped dead only minutes before Mauro’s arrival.
Shlomo (Germano Haiut), an elderly next-door neighbor who works at the nearby synagogue, takes him in. But the boy resists Shlomo’s reluctant overtures and wants to get into his grandfather’s apartment. A precocious neighbor his age, Hanna (Daniela Piepszyk), tells him to get the superintendent to let him in. He then sits by the telephone, waiting for his parents to call and take him home.
Weeks go by and Shlomo doesn’t know what to do with this boy who, despite a Jewish grandfather, he considers a “goy.” Gradually, Mauro builds a sense of community in the Bom Retiro district, which in those days was home mostly to immigrants of Jewish, Greek, Italian and black origin. But Mauro sees himself as a goalie, a solitary figure that, while a team member, stands apart. He already understands himself as somehow different, as a person in exile just like his parents.
With Hanna he experiences a rite of passage that exposes him to affection, friendship and a peep hole in her mother’s dress store where she charges neighborhood boys to watch women undress. Shlomo brings him in touch with his Jewish heritage, not that it has much impact. The beauty of Irene (Liliana Castro) sparks the fantasy lives of many adolescent boys. And through the student Italo (Caio Blat), Mauro sees the cracked skull one can receive for holding the wrong political beliefs.
Serious movies about children often are burdened with symbolism and coyness. But Hamburger has superbly crafted a film of considerable subtlety and shrewdness. As Mauro makes his way through the world of his parents and late grandfather, he comes into contact with people and ideas that expand his horizons and challenge his thinking.
Hamburger’s depiction of a time and community under the stress of political upheaval is full and engaging but steers clear of nostalgia. Cassio Amarante’s beautifully detailed production design benefits from somber, natural lighting by cinematographer Adriano Goldman. Beto Villares’ music is just so. It never intrudes but brings in its Brazilian melodies at just the right spots.
THE YEAR MY PARENTS WENT ON VACATION
Gullane Filmes/Caos Producoes, Miravista, Globo Filmes/Petrobras
Director: Cao Hamburger
Screenwriters: Claudio Galperin, Braulio Mantovani, Anna Muylaert, Cao Hamburger
Based on a story by: Claudio Galperin, Cao Hamburger
Producers: Fabiano Gullane, Caio Gullane, Cao Hamburger
Director of photography: Adriano Goldman
Production designer: Cassio Amarante
Music: Beto Villares
Costume designer: Cristina Camargo
Editor: Daniel Rezende
Mauro: Michel Joelsas
Hanna: Daniela Piepszyk
Shlomo: Germano Haiut
Bia: Simone Spoladore
Italo: Caio Blat
Daniel: Eduardo Moreira
Irene: Liliana Castro
Edgar: Rodrigo dos Santos
Opa Motel: Paulo Autran
Running time — 104 minutes
No MPAA rating
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