Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Mauro (Michel Joelsas) &
Shlomo (Germano Haiut)
Photo: Outsider Pictures

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Directed by Cao Hamburger
Produced by Caio Gullane, Hamburger & Fabiano Gullane
Written by Claudio Galperin, Bráulio Mantovani, Anna Muylaert & Hamburger
Director of Photography, Adriano Goldman
Edited by Daniel Rezende
Music by Beto Villares
Released by City Lights Pictures
Language: Portuguese, Hebrew and Yiddish with English subtitles
Brazil. 105 min. Not Rated
With Michel Joelsas, Daniela Piepszyk, Germano Haiut, Caio Blat, Simone Spoladore, Eduardo Moreira, Liliana Castro & Rodrigo dos Santos.

Like any 12-year-old boy free for the summer, Mauro (Michel Joelsas) is consumed with playing football (soccer in the U.S.). But in 1970 Brazil, Pelé is in his prime and Brazil’s military dictatorship a decade into its repressive rule. As army trucks pass on the highway, his suburban-seeming parents are unusually nervous when they suddenly drive to São Paulo in their blue VW bug, deposit Mauro with a grandfather he has never met, and hurriedly announce they are leaving “on vacation.”

Mauro’s arrival is just as much a big surprise to his estranged grandfather and his neighbor Shlomo as it is to the boy. Germano Haiut’s Shlomo is in the mode of a gruff loner who is softened by taking in a cocky kid, like Michel Simon in Claude Berri’s The Two of Us, with the turnaround that here the old man is Jewish. Much to his shock, he accidentally discovers that Mauro is not: “He’s a goy!”

Shlomo calls a meeting with the community leaders at the synagogue to discuss who is responsible for the abandoned boy. Under the leadership of the rabbi, the debate turns Talmudic to define the problem – “His mother isn’t Jewish!” “What if his father is a Communist?” “But he’s Motel’s grandson!” The rabbi finally rises and compares him to baby Moses left floating in the reeds to be rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. So the community adopts him, calling him Moishele, Yiddish for little Moses.

Left alone in his grandfather’s apartment, Mauro sifts through old photographs and memorabilia, trying to make sense of history and how he relates to his family and his father’s heritage. Eventually, he proudly introduces himself as Motel the barber’s grandson – in order to get free lunches all around the neighborhood.

Pelé and his teammates (seen in a lot of black-and-white game footage) as well as the local team bring everyone together in São Paolo’s diverse Bom Retiro district. Fans from elderly Orthodox Jews to radical university students cheer each goal through the long tournament. But the World Cup, where Brazil sought an unprecedented three-time win, is also a convenient distraction from political turmoil for the government. A student activist, Ítalo (Caio Blat) and a friend of Mauro’s father, understands what “the vacation” really means and realizes he too may have to go “on vacation” soon. Mauro’s anxious fixation on his father’s promise to return for the Cup finals spurs Shlomo uncharacteristically to action to find the boy’s parents, putting himself in danger as the tightening on civil rights ratchets up.

While director Cao Hamburger and his co-writers have been involved with productions by Fernando Meirelles and his offshoots of City of God, this is a gentler change of pace from that burnished gritty reality. Heavy on nostalgic charm, The Year My Parents Went On Vacation doesn’t quite rise to the level of Julie Gavras’s Blame It On Fidel as an insightful portrait of children buffeted by their parents’ leftist activism in the 1970’s. But like Daniel Burman’s Lost Embrace set in Buenos Aires, it offers a lovely portrait of a South American Jewish neighborhood. Nora Lee Mandel
February 15, 2008



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