Laura CliffordIt is 1970 and Brazil is in the grip of a ruthless dictatorship that is causing political unrest among the country’s leftist intellectuals and students. It is also the year that the Brazilian soccer team just may win the coveted World Cup. These events are viewed through the eyes of 10-year Mauro Stein (Michel Joelsas) after he is hurriedly packed off to his grandfather, Motel (Paulo Autran), “The Year My Parents Went On Vacation.”
Soccer fanatic Mauro dreams of playing on the same field as his idol, Pele. His life abruptly changes, though, when his parents, Daniel (Eduardo Moreira) and Bia (Simone Spoladore), suddenly announce that they are dropping the boy off with Daniel’s aging dad while they go on vacation. That is what they tell Mauro to tell others – his mother and father are on “vacation” and will be back before Brazil plays its first Cup game But, when Mauro bangs on his grandfather’s door, there is no answer. The next-door neighbor, old Shlomo (Germano Haiut), breaks the bad news to the youngster – the old man had a heart attack and died.
Mauro finds himself all alone in the Jewish-Italian neighborhood of Bom Retiro in Sao Paulo and Shlomo is coerced, by the ‘hoods’ elders, to take care of the boy until they can figure out what to do with him until his parents return. Shlomo grudgingly takes the assignment only to be horrified that Mauro is not circumcised and, thus, a goy. Still, he is responsible for the kid and does his best as the neighbors rally around to help care for Mauro. This results in one of the films frequently funny montage sequences as he, daily, ferries himself from one home to another to be fed lunch. The neighborhood embraces their new ward.
While Mauro’s missing parents and his assimilation into the neighborhood are the emotional core of “The Year My Parents…,” it is Brazil’s participation in the World Cup competition that fosters the most excitement and laugh out loud moments. One of the student intellectuals, Italo (Caio Blat), takes a liking to Mauro. His girlfriend, a pretty waitress, Irene (Liliana Castro), takes the boy under here wing, too. Everyone wants Mauro to join them to watch the opening soccer match with Czechoslovakia but he decides to stay at his grandfather’s flat, knowing his dad will keep his promise. Daniel and Bia, though, never show up.
The large and likable cast is anchored by the open, natural appeal of newcomer Michel Joelsas as Mauro. The young actor gives a mature and believable performance as a boy the ‘hood would adopt as one of their own. Germano Haiut, as Shlomo, is a terrific foil for Mauro as he instills traditional values to the boy. The rest of the players give full dimension making the environment and life in the ‘hood a very realistic thing, indeed.
Director Cao Hamburger, his writers (Hamburger, Claudio Galperin, Braulio Mantovani and Anna Muylaert) and behind the camera crew do a terrific job in recreating circa 1970 Sao Paulo and the excitement the country feels for its footballer heroes.
The Year My Parents Went On Vacation” intricately weaves a melancholy tale about a boy abandoned, due to necessity, by his parents and losing a grandfather he never knew. Couch this with the warm and giving people of the neighborhood, the national fervor over the World Cup and an invigorating dose of honest humor and you can understand why Brazil proudly offered the film for Oscar consideration. It did not make the short list. It should have. I give it an A-.
Laura gives "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" a B+.
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