Brazilian film deserves wider recognition
by Molly Templeton
THE YEAR MY PARENTS WENT ON VACATION: Directed by Cao Hamburger. Story by Hamburger and Claudio Galperin; screenplay by Hambuger, Galperin, Braulio Mantovani and Anna Muylaert. Cinematography, Adriano Goldman. Music, Beto Villares. Starring Michel Joelsas, Germano Haiut, Daniela Piepszyk and Caio Blat. City Lights Pictures, 2008. Not rated. 105 min.
It’s a shame that director Cao Hamburger’s gentle, immersive second film seems to be floating somewhere beneath the radar. The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, Brazil’s submission to this year’s Oscars (it didn’t make the nominee list), is a wonder of quiet, personal fimmaking that carefully engages political and social issues from the uncertain perspective of its main character, 12-year-old Mauro (Michel Joelsas), who is left on his grandfather’s doorstep by his hastily departing parents. It’s never made explicit why Mauro’s parents are leaving Brazil any more than it’s explained why Ítalo (Caio Blat), a student who knew Mauro’s father, winds up beaten by the police, but it’s clear even to Mauro that the world is a more complex place than he had thought. It’s not all bad, though; in the building where Mauro expected to find his grandfather he instead finds Shlomo (Germano Haiut), a Polish Jew who takes the boy in and gives him a home in the Jewish community, and Hanna (Daniela Piepszyk), a sassy, skinny thing with an opportunistic streak that doesn’t hide her good heart. In the neighborhood, he meets a lovely waitress who charms all the boys, and her boyfriend, whose motorbike is not quite as cool as his goalkeeping skills. It’s 1970, a World Cup year, and like all the other kids, Mauro is obsessed with soccer — and increasingly with the position of the goalie, the lone figure at the end of the field who, his father told him, is the one player who’s not allowed to make mistakes.
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation is radiant with restrained and affecting performances, scored beautifully by Beto Villares and shot so precisely by cinematographer Adriano Goldman that you may find yourself not paying attention to the subtitles, so beautifully does he frame the characters, often in windows and mirrors, their reflections shifted, suggestive versions of themselves. The film carefully walks the line between charming and cute, sad and wry, smart and naïve, and Hamburger does a superb job of limiting the perspective to what Mauro would understand, broadening the scope as the boy becomes more aware of the world around him and how he might fit in it. It’s a familiar story, the coming of age in troubled times, but the unusual setting, the performances and the simple grace of the details, from the décor of the apartments to the confetti piling in the streets, make The Year My Parents Went on Vacation a modest but moving triumph.
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation opens Friday, May 30, at the Bijou.