Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Boy from Brazil

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (O Ano em Que Meus Pais Sairam de Ferias), Brazil’s entry for best foreign film in this year’s Academy Awards, is a semi-autobiographical snapshot Brazil in 1970. That year, when director Cao Hamburger was eight, his professor parents were arrested by the military dictatorship for supporting “subversives.”

The movie, written by Claudio Galperin and Adriana Falcão, is told through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy, Mauro (Michel Joelsas), an ardent soccer fan whose activist parents tell him they’re going “on vacation” and will return for the World Cup finals. They leave him at the São Paolo apartment of his paternal grandfather, Mótel (Paulo Autran), an Orthodox Jewish barber. Unknown to the boy, his parents (Simone Spoladore, Eduardo Moreira) are going underground, and unknown to the parents, Mótel has died, leaving Mauro in the reluctant care of his neighbor, Shlomo (Germano Haiut) and the largely Jewish community of Bom Retiro.

Mauro's longing for his parents is palpably sad. For a time he moves into his dead grandfather’s apartment just to feel some family connection. He befriends the neighborhood children, including Hanna (the appealing Daniela Piepszyk), a clever, tomboyish girl who sells the boys peephole access to her mother’s dress-store fitting rooms.

The movie is organized around the fervor of the World Cup championship, with vintage footage of the famous games starring Pelé and other football luminaries of the day. Mauro is only vaguely aware of the political maelstrom surrounding him, and his naïve point of view is a disadvantage dramatically. The story of what happened to his parents would be a lot more interesting than the many scenes of people cheering at soccer games. But this is not so much a political story as a poignant melodrama about a boy caught up in events just beyond his understanding.

On that level, the movie is somewhat successful. Yet it does leave you hungry for something more substantial. (In Portuguese, English and Yiddish, with subtitles.)

Originally published in the Cleveland Free Times.

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