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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Year My Parents Went On Vacation

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Jacqueline Monahan

The Year My Parents Went On Vacation

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The Year My Parents Went On Vacation
Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias, O (Brazil)

At first glance, the title may seem exceedingly ordinary, boring even. Then the unusual word sinks in: year. What kind of parents are these people, extremely negligent or extremely wealthy?

The year is 1970, around the time of the World Cup. Soccer is Brazil’s national pastime, with Pele as its undisputed superstar, having scored his thousandth goal. Ten-year-old Mauro (Michel Joesas) is obsessed with the game, playing a tabletop version incessantly. His parents, Daniel (Eduardo Moreira) and Bia (Simone Spoladore) hurriedly pack up household belongings, make hushed phone calls to Mauro’s new caretaker (who is reluctant to accept the boy, judging from the part of the conversation that can be overheard).

With knowing looks and paranoid glances, Mauro’s parents point their blue Volkswagen Beetle toward Bom Retiro, a suburb of São Paulo, leaving the boy and his suitcase in front of a boxy, sterile-looking building. Before the VW takes off, Mauro is cautioned once again about what to say if questioned about his parents’ whereabouts. They are simply on vacation. Mauro accepts this at face value and enters the building to knock on his paternal grandfather’s door. Mótel (Paolo Autran) is not home, so the child waits for hours in the hallway, finally encountering next door neighbor, Shlomo, (Germano Haiut) who tells the boy that Mótel had just had a heart attack and died.

Shlomo looks after Mauro single-handedly, offering him food and a place to stay. The alien arrangement has Mauro dissatisfied and worried; he endangers himself by trying to climb from Shlomo’s balcony to his grandfather’s next door when he hears the phone ringing. This prompts the building’s caretaker to let Mauro access the apartment, which becomes a source of comfort and refuge to the boy. Shlomo discovers that Mauro is not circumcised; he does not even know he is Jewish.

There is inevitable conflict with Shlomo, who slaps the boy for innocently wearing a prayer shawl as part of a soccer uniform. Mauro retreats to his grandfather’s apartment to finally mourn the old man’s death, his parents’ disappearance, and his unfortunate new circumstances.

Shlomo and Mauro reconcile, and with the help of the entire Jewish community, the boy is welcomed, hosted by different households for meals, introduced to a peer group through Hanna, (Daniela Piepszyk) an upstairs neighbor girl who secretly crushes on the new kid in town. Hanna’s mother runs a dress shop and the girl charges her male pals a small fee to be brought to a back room with peep holes to watch dressing room activities – quite an eye-opener for Mauro.

Mauro attends a Bar Mitzvah, learns of his Jewish roots (only his father was Jewish) and meets Irene, (Liliana Castro) a waitress at the local diner where the community gathers for televised soccer tournaments. He meets locals like Italo, (Caio Blat) a university student who has the same hunted look he remembers from his parents. Shlomo, and some of the elders of the community take to calling him Moishale (Moses) because of his unexpected and unescorted appearance in their midst.

Police and military scour the streets looking for Communists and other dissidents. They are not above raiding the university, arresting detaining and beating the population indiscriminately. They are in cars and on horseback, waving bludgeoning batons and striking fear into the neighborhood. There is definitely an underground here that Mauro does not realize he is very much a part of.

The World Cup comes and goes, and Mauro lives his life cocooned in his new community. Time passes swiftly until it’s time for the next World Cup and an entire year has passed. Mauro wishes for his parents’ return, his desire overtaking his passion for soccer for the first time.

A police raid ensnares Shlomo and Italo with differing outcomes, but both men’s predicaments affect Mauro profoundly. He relates Italo’s idealism and persecution to that of his parents; he also realizes that he has a strong emotional attachment to Shlomo, hugging the old man upon his return from a long interrogation.

Shlomo has a surprise for the boy which alters his life (both current and previous versions). The film manages to have a happy and a sad ending to its story.

Writer/Director Cao Hamburger (Screen Girl) has created a small film which is big on ideals and the mechanics of relationships. It does not leave the neighborhood or the people in it, but tells their story through the eyes of Mauro, who begins as a stranger, and leaves as a friend.

Michel Joesas has disarming blue eyes which aid him in convincing us that he’s an innocent caught up in a political climate he can’t comprehend. Germano Haiut exudes facial expressions from the other end of the spectrum with his weary, steadfast gazes and stoic pronouncements. Daniela Piepszyk’s Hanna is a wise, girlish tomboy, exactly the unsentimental, wisecracking counterpart to get Mauro through his unexpected stay in Bom Retiro with a minimum of sadness and self-pity.

What kind of parents would leave their child for an entire year in the company and care of strangers? By film’s end you will know and more importantly, you will care.

(In Portuguese, with English subtitles – some Yiddish, German)
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