Most Brazilian films made in the past two decades portray social and political woes opposed to the cultural and natural wonders of the country. They forge an atmosphere of survival despite the adversities, of resilience in a hostile and predatory environment. The Year My Parents Went on Vacation is no exception.
In his film, however, Hamburger dares to address these themes from a very unusual perspective, placing children characters at the centre of the saga. The director had previously directed various children TV shows, and here he successfully manages to transpose his experience to cinema in The Year My Parents Went on Vacation. This is evidenced in the subtle and delicate presentation of the film’s protagonist, and the magic and innocence through which he sees the world and events surrounding him.
Mauro is a boy in love with football and button football living in Brazil in the 1970s. Relatives take him from his house in Belo Horizonte and drop him in a Jewish district of São Paulo, where he is to spend time with his grandfather – whom he never met before – while his parents “are gone on vacation”. Upon arrival, the boy encounters an unexpected twist: his grandfather has just died. He then approaches the neighbour, an old Jewish man called Shlomo, and also befriends a group of young kids, who are also passionate about football. He discovers new friendships, new passions and slowly settles into a new community, which at first seemed to reject him. His mother then returns from the alleged “vacations”, which were in fact a political exile fro the Brazilian military dictatorship.
The story portrayed is very politically correct, and it evokes responsive mimicry with the child protagonist. The oppressive regime and the euphoria surrounding the 1970 Word Cup (which Brazil won) are strangely harmonious with the difficulties faced by Mauro. The script is utterly delicate and humane, which is rare in Brazilian cinema.
The entire narrative of the film foretells a sad ending, and the climax of the story is well construed with the passions of Mauro. The football goalkeeper is used as metaphor of the unsung, lone hero, and often compared to Mauro’s predicament.
The film also has its shortcomings. The child actors are somewhat inexperienced, often rendering the piece long and laborious. The film also fails to delve with central themes in more detail, such as forged family connections and loss of innocence when exposed to a strange and dirty world. In addition, there are confusing references as to how Mauro’s parents resisted the dictatorship, jeopardising the rhythm and the dynamics of the movie. The portrayal of Jews, Greeks and Italian in 1970s São Paulo is also somewhat stereotyped.
The Year My Parents Went On Vacation is a fun and entertaining family movie. It is also very educational, in highlighting futile jingoism at very troubled times. It is a refreshing break from the violent favela mainstream Brazilian movies made at the time – such as City of God (Fernando Meirelles, 2003) and Elite Squad (José Padilha, 2006). Perhaps this is why it was submitted to the Oscars in 2007 (instead of Padilha’s movie). It is an easily-digested film about a very thorny political subject. Above all, it is a film about Brazilian people and culture. It received various international accolades and has been shown in all corners of the planet.
This film was selected by DMovies as one of the 16 dirtiest films of the past 10 years in Brazil.