The Year My Parents Went On Vacation
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The Year My Parents Went On Vacation

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There are some movies that just reading the plot has you considering skipping watching it. It you were to read about a film concerning a twelve year old boy left by his parents with his grandfather who then dies leaving the boy with strangers you might think this one is too depressing to care about. In the case of the film ‘The Year My Parents Went on Vacation’ you would be so very wrong. This is a piece of cinematic art at its best. It is one of the most novel twists on the hackney genre of the coming of age story that has been around in many years. There are flaws in this film but as you watch many of them fade into unimportance. The movie is able to grab you and make you run through the full gamut of emotional responses. So many films with a political message turn out to be dry or worse dull. This is especially true if the politics involved are not concerned with our own country. This is a film that has politics at its center but what always allows this movie to transcend its peers is the way the story is told. There is a human heart here. The political struggle is shown through its effect on a twelve year old boy. You might not be able to identify with the political struggles of Brazil in 1970 but you will connect with what this boy had to go through.

There were a larger than normal group responsible for writing the screenplay for this film. Cao Hamburger, Adriana Falcão, Claudio Galperin, Anna Muylaert and Bráulio Mantovani collaborated on a story that is incredibly well structured. Falcão acted as the script coordinator pulling together the efforts of this diverse and talented group. Most of her scripting experience is with comedies. Galperin brings to the table previous works geared more towards family adventure and drama/comedy. Another member of the group with work in several genres is Muylaert. She has scripts in dramas, Sci-Fi and comedy. Mantovani is new to feature length scripts but has worked on several shorts with other members of this team. Last there is Hamberger who also directed this film. This is the first time in script writing. A lot of times a large group of writers are at odds with each other and this is evident in the finished product. Here it looks as if there is a synergy at work with the result greater than the sum if its parts. Each of the writers in this collective is talented but there is little indication in their resumes of something this grand in scale. It also adds to the diversity of the film’s elements. There are the aforementioned political aspects of a country in turmoil. Add to that a young boy who has to cope with being away from his parents in a place where he is a stranger. Then there is the one plot device that helps to unite the parts; a love for football, soccer to us here in the States. This story touches on so many themes that it is incredible that all of them remain distinct and clear. You watch a boy in a community where a different language is spoken leaving him more isolated than ever. The very city is pulled in two conflicting directions; excitement over the World Cup and trepidation with the sweeping political changes.

Director Cao Hamburger has some experience in this field mostly in Brazilian television and animation. He is excellent here in the way he uses his camera to tell this story. Much of the focus here is on the stark contrasts present in Brazil in 1970. the boy, Mauro, beautifully played by Michel Joelsas, is the human face on what is occurring in the country. This was a turbulent year for Brazil. The newly elected president General Emilio Medici was beginning a draconian regime that would be known for strict repression of opposition, the militarization of the government and even torture. The trepidation of the population was in contrast to the high level of anticipation over Brazil being in the World Cup; the ultimate soccer competition. A crushing military government is one thing but this is the World Cup. As Medici was dismantling the Brazilian constitution soccer fever was running wild. Hamburger is brilliant in the way he subtly shows this dichotomy on a visual level. He cuts between the feet of people joyfully dancing with the hooves of the military police horses as their riders go out looking to apprehend dissenters. It sounds so simple in print but to watch it unfold this scene has amazing emotional impact. This is really the key to Hamburger’s directorial style; he takes simple, human scenes and makes them hit the audience with great force.

Mauro is a typical carefree 12 year old boy living with his parents in the city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil. It is 1970 and he notices that there seems to be a lot that the adults, including his parents, are concerned about. His father Daniel (Eduardo Moreira) and mother Bia (Simone Spoladore) are both political activist far to the left of the current government. It is only a matter of time until they are brought in so they need to go on the run. They know that it would not be safe to take their son along so they plan to take him to stay with his grandfather, telling him they are on vacation and will return in time for the World Cup, Mótel (Paulo Autran) who is a barber in São Paulo. Shortly after the boy arrives the grandfather has a heart attack and dies. There is no way to contact the parents so Mauro is now in a Jewish neighborhood, Bom Retiro, where most of the people speak Yiddish, a language unknown to the boy. Since his father is Jewish the community feels a responsibility to the boy and a local elder, Shlomo (Germano Haiut) aggress to take Mauro in and care for him. At first the neighborhood children are stand offish to Mauro but these changes when a girl his age, Hannah (Daniela Piepszyk) befriends him.

This is the kind of film that attracts so many people to independent cinema. It is moving, touch and yet at the same time funny. It takes a serious problem and by filtering it through the eyes of this young boy makes it understandable to the audience. It is a good thing there are distributors like City Lights Media around. It is unlikely that a film like this would do well against the huge block busters. It is gentle and will invoke the full range of emotions in the viewers. It deserves a place in any serious film collection.

Posted 07/09/08

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