February 9, 2007

Berlinale Dispatch. The Year My Parents Went On Vacation.

The Year My Parents Went On Vacation Cao Hamburger's O ano em que meus pais sairam de férias (The Year My Parents Went On Vacation) incidentally set a tone, a theme for the three screenings I caught this Friday: children abandoned or in some way neglected by bad or incompetent parents or parents simply otherwise engaged. Vacation falls into the latter category.

Brazil, 1970. The military dictatorship (1964 to 1985) makes no distinctions in its view of the violently suppressed opposition: socialists, social democrats, what have you, they're all (as the subtitles translate the term) "commies." It takes us a while to learn enough to be sure, but Mauro's parents are in some never-defined way wrapped up in subversive activities. Their situation, whatever it is, has become so dangerous that they can no longer stay at home. They've decided they will have to go "on vacation." And this is all they will tell Mauro (Michel Joelsas), their 12-year-old son. If anyone asks, they're on vacation; though they try to keep the truth from him, we can sense that it would be too risky for all three of them if he knew anything more.

1970 was a big year for Brazil for another reason, too. It was the year Brazil won the World Cup. If you remember last summer's World Cup, you might also remember that Brazilians are among the most enthusiastic of fans; in 1970, the competition probably meant even more to them as it held out a reason to celebrate their country and take their minds off all the torture, assassination and forced exile going on - never talked about out in the open, but always in the air. As Hamburger quipped at the press conference today, in many ways, then and now, "Soccer is the opiate of the people."

As Mauro's parents drive him to his grandfather's apartment in São Paulo, they phone him just before they arrive. "Does it have to be today?" the grandfather asks. It does. What Mauro and his parents don't know is why he's asked. He's not feeling too well. They also don't know that between that phone call and their arrival, the grandfather collapses in his barbershop. Dead.

Mauro's parents' big mistake: they leave him at the front door of the apartment building, not the apartment door itself. They don't know the grandfather's gone, much less for good. The grandfather's neighbor, Sholomo (Germano Haiut) discovers Mauro waiting at that door - he's been there for hours - and here, the comedic flavoring, a bit on the cutesy side, begins. We're in the Bom Retiro district of the city, populated by Jews, Italians, Greeks, Arabs, all the various immigrant communities. Like Mauro's grandfather, Sholomo, if you haven't guessed, is Jewish, and the first words he speaks to Mauro are an admonishment for playing in the hall. Spoken in Yiddish.

When Sholomo learns who Mauro's waiting for, the old man realizes he'll have to take the boy in. For the time being. Well, you can see where this is going. Mauro knows nothing of his Jewish heritage; Sholomo and the community about to absorb Mauro are considerably more orthodox than the South American Jewish communities we've seen in, say, the work of Daniel Burman. But of course, as the cultures clash and the gentle laughs roll, and all the while, the neighborhood rouses itself for the World Cup, we know we're heading toward seeing it all work out.

The chuckles, of course, are interspersed with moments of anger and sadness, but never anything too extreme or even, when it comes down to it, too consequential. This is a pleasant film, certainly fit for viewers of Mauro's age, even with its bittersweet ending. But you'll get no spoilers from me other than one: Brazil: 4, Italy: 1.

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Posted by dwhudson at February 9, 2007 2:59 PM