The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (City Lights Pictures, NR)

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You’ve heard this story before, but what makes The Year My Parents Went on Vacation worth seeing is the unfamiliar setting: not just Brazil, but the Jewish community of Sao Paolo.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation begins as a mystery: an apparently ordinary middle-class couple from Belo Horizonte (Simone Spoladore and Eduardo Moreira) pack their bags in haste and take off in their blue Volkswagon, along with their soccer-mad son Mauro (Michel Joelsas). They drop him off at his grandfather’s apartment building in Sao Paolo with reassurances that they are only going on vacation and will be back in time for the World Cup, departing in such haste that they don’t even wait to see that he gets settled in.

Something’s clearly not right here: it helps if you know that in 1970 Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship, and that “going on vacation” was a euphemism for going into hiding to avoid arrest. Unfortunately, Mauro’s grandfather has recently died, leaving Mauro to fend for himself in unfamiliar surroundings where he knows not a single soul. No points for guessing that, as befits a conventional coming-of-age film, he is more than equal to the challenge. Mauro finds adult protectors, makes friends with the other kids in the neighborhood, including the street-smart tomboy Hanna (Daniela Piepszyk), develops a crush on the pretty waitress Irene (Liliana Castro) and comes to a better understanding of himself, his family and his heritage.

You’ve heard this story before, but what makes The Year My Parents Went on Vacation worth seeing is the unfamiliar setting: not just Brazil, but the Jewish community of Sao Paolo. Despite having a Jewish father and grandfather, Mauro has had a secular upbringing: he’s not circumcised, is unfamiliar with basic Jewish customs such as covering mirrors while in mourning, and apparently doesn’t even recognize a prayer shawl when he sees one. However, the Jewish community takes him in, beginning with his elderly neighbor Shlomo (Germano Haiut), who somewhat reluctantly assumes responsibility for the boy after his rabbi tells him that if God deposited Mauro on Shlomo’s doorstep, He must have had a good reason.

The political aspect of the story remains primarily in the background: what’s foremost in the film, as in Mauro’s mind, is the fortunes of Brazil’s soccer team, which has a chance to win an unprecedented third world title. The team becomes unifying focus for the diverse Brazilian neighborhood: everyone from the rabbi to the radical members of the student union get caught up watching the tournament on television (granted, the students cheer for Czechoslovakia against Brazil because a win for Czechoslovakia would be a win for Socialism) and even Shlomo finally looks up from his Tribuna Israelita to watch part of a game.

Director Cao Hamburger takes an understated approach to this story, which is told from Mauro’s point of view. Hamburger also extracts excellent performances from the child actors, particularly Piepszyk, an enterprising girl who plays soccer with the boys then charges them to peep into her mother’s dress shop while the customers are changing their clothes. Cinematography by Adriano Goldman is excellent and the production design by Cassio Amarante effectively transforms modern Sao Paolo into 1970’s Brazil. | Sarah Boslaugh

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