The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (***)
Cao Hamburger’s The Year My Parents Went on Vacation deals with the primary subject (next, perhaps, to adultery) of foreign films that reach English audiences: coming of age. No one with the slightest interest in seeing the film should be surprised, then, by its positioning of a defining moment in a child’s life against a backdrop of political upheaval. Here, Mauro (Michel Joelsas), a young Brazilian soccer fanatic eagerly anticipating a Pelé-led victory at the 1970 World Cup, is dropped off at his grandfather’s apartment building by his parents. They tell him they’re going on vacation, but they are really trying to escape persecution from the country’s mounting military dictatorship.
Mauro’s life without them is, again unsurprisingly, one of great change. When he arrives he discovers that his grandfather, who lives in São Paulo’s Jewish enclave, has died; Mauro’s relationship with the neighbour who takes him under his wing (and renames him Moishele, after his religion’s most-lauded foundling) forces him to confront his heritage. Mauro forges friendships with other ragtag kids in the building, develops crushes on pretty women, and yearns to return to the way things were (his parents drive a blue VW bug, and Mauro gets his hopes up every time he sees one drive by).
Mauro is unmistakably Hamburger’s way of representing his own country’s loss of innocence, and of underlining, in bold, the irony of the World Cup: a great international victory for Brazil, and a great diversion during one of its darkest periods. The message is coated in lovely cinematography (which makes everything look like a faded Polaroid) and effective, naturalistic acting. It’s all rote stuff, and The Year My Parents Went on Vacation recites it perfectly.
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation is now playing at the Cumberland (159 Cumberland St.).