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The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

Brazilian film tells a touching truth about coming of age

By Jocelyn Bell

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation
Brazil: Portuguese with subtitles
Directed by Cao Hamburger, starring Michel Joelsas and Germano Haiut
(Gullanes Filmes)

It’s 1970 in Brazil. The cold war is in full swing. Pelé has scored his 1000th goal and Brazil is poised to win the World Cup of Soccer for the third year in a row.

A 12-year-old boy named Mauro (Michel Joelsas) is rushing to pack. His parents are going on a “vacation,” a euphemism, we later learn, for an escape into political exile. Mauro’s parents are hardline communists running from a military dictatorship.

They drop him off outside his grandfather’s building in the Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Bom Retiro in Sao Paulo and promise to return in time for the first game of the World Cup. While politics and the World Cup form the twin heartbeats of this story, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation is really a coming-of-age tale about a youth forced to wake up to hard truths.

Mauro enters the building only to discover that his grandfather died of a heart attack the day before. A crusty old neighbour named Shlomo (Germano Haiut) takes the boy in. Tension mounts as they try to bridge the gaps between age, language, religion and culture.

Shlomo nicknames the boy “Moishale” (Moses), and the pair begin to negotiate a relationship. The elder accepts his role as surrogate grandfather when he undertakes a search for the boy’s parents. Mauro becomes the grandson when he develops a taste for fish at breakfast.

As the truth about his parents’ “vacation” begins to dawn on him, Mauro struggles with loneliness, depression and anger. But maybe this experience of abandonment will help him achieve his dream of becoming a soccer goalie. In a voice-over at the start of the movie, Mauro says goalies are unlike any other member of the team. “They spend their whole lives standing there alone, expecting the worst.”
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