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Arts & Culture

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

Ten-year old Mauro (Michel Joelsas) loves soccer (or football as it's referred to outside the U.S.) but he's oblivious to the his country's political upheavals. On this particular day, his parents, Daniel (Eduardo Moreira) and Miriam (Simone Spoladore) are behaving strangely; they seem nervous and agitated. They hustle Mauro into the car and abruptly head off to Sao Paulo. They explain that they will be going on vacation but that Mauro will have to stay with his grandfather M & oacute;tel (even though his family has never been close with the grandfather). His parents promise that they will return before Brazil plays in the World Cup Final. When the parents arrive in the grandfather's old Jewish/Italian neighborhood, they quickly leave Mauro on the street and rush off. Mauro is confused, although the audience is likely to sense the adults' tension and infer that the parents are fleeing from the oppressive government.

Mauro goes to his grandfather's apartment, but no one answers. Eventually, his grandpa's neighbor, Shlomo (Germano Haiut), arrives, and informs the boy that M & oacute;tel recently suffered a heart attack and died. This leaves Mauro with no place to go. He has no way of reaching his parents and no idea where they might be. Reluctantly, Shlomo offers some help, and the Jewish community ends up providing assistance as well. Mauro, though, insists on staying in his grandpa's apartment because his parents promised to call. But as days pass without any word from them, Mauro grows bored. He's eventually lured out by his outgoing young neighbor Hanna (Daniela Piepszyk). As Brazil advances to the finals, Mauro grows increasingly excited. The finals will not only see his beloved team going for their third victory but it also marks the date of his parents' promised return.

By focusing on this very intimate tale and taking the perspective of a ten-year-old boy, filmmaker Cao Hamburger delivers a delicate and subtle coming of age story with broader implications. Mauro's growing awareness of the world around him provides the film with a subtle way of enlightening viewers as well. Mauro's sudden insertion into an unfamiliar Jewish community forces him to become aware of cultural differences even within his own country. (The Jews try to speak to him in Yiddish and scold his absent parents for never having taught their son the language.) Living in close proximity to people much older than him opens his eyes to the experiences of a previous generation. And as he searches for his parents, he discovers things about the social and political conditions in Brazil, conditions that he discovers directly impact his family. Through Mauro, Hamburger offers us a fresh perspective on a recent chapter of Brazilian history.


As with Iran's Offside, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation uses soccer as something that can both distract people from everyday problems and be something that can bring an entire country together - despite what political realities exist - even if only for a moment. Soccer for Mauro is a passion as it is for the girls in Offside and for the little boy about to have a bar mitzvah in Sixty-Six (his rite of passage falls on the same day that London hosts the 1966 World Cup between England and Germany). All three of these films capture a child's passion for the sport.

Feisty Hanna plays soccer with the boys in The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (City Lights)

Hamburger gives The Year My Parents Went on Vacation a leisurely pace and at times not much is happening. But he never allows his story or his characters to wallow in sentimentality. There is always a grit and realism to events. Stylistically, the film offers a sharp contrast to the edgy, flashy attitude of such Brazilian exports as City of God . Hamburger's film has much more in common with the kind of Jewish themed films (like Lost Embrace, Only Human, Family Law ) coming from Argentina and often showcased by the San Diego Jewish Film Festival. The film also boasts a ensemble of fine performances starting with the young Joelsas as Mauro and the spunky Piepszyk as Hanna. The quiet, introverted Joelas and the extroverted Piepszyk provide entertaining interplay. Piepszyk is a little fireball who lights up all her scenes. Her Hana is smarter than the local boys and keeps them wrapped around her finger by offering them -- for a price -- the opportunity to peep into the dressing rooms of the local dress shop. Joelas conveys a child's ability to adapt to situations but also conveys his increased longing for his absent parents. An older Mauro provide brief narration to place the story and the role memory plays into a context for us. Also noteworthy is Haiut. As Shlomo he initially seems in danger of falling into a grumpy old man stereotype, but as he tries to uncover information about Mauro's parents, Haiut conveys growing depth and compassion. Haiut's Shlomo is pulled out of his shell as much as Joelas' Mauro is from his. The two develop a warm but not schmaltzy relationship.

Hamburger's first film, Castle Ra-Tim-Bum (a spin-off of his children's TV show) screened a few years back at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. That Harry Potter- like kids film only hinted at his talent for working with young performers. In The Year My Parents Went on Vacation , he still shows an affinity for a child's perspective but this time with more awareness of the adult world creeping in.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (rated PG for thematic material, mild language, brief suggestive content, some violence and smoking, and in Portuguese Yiddish with English subtitles) is an appealing dramedy that delicately couches its political and social commentary in a coming of age tale. The script by Hamburger and a team of writers begins shakily -- asking us to believe that parents would just dump their child on a street corner and vanish -- but eventually wins us over.


Companion viewing: Offside, Sixty-Six, Castle Ra-Tim-Bum