City Lights Media // 2007 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 7th, 2008
Sure to become a family favorite!
"Are they ever going to come back?"
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation tells the story of a young boy named Mauro (Michael Joelsas, Opera do Mallandro) living in Brazil during the 1970s. Like any young man living in Brazil at the time, Mauro is enamored with soccer. Pele and the Brazilian team seem like strong candidates to win the world cup, and Mauro makes soccer his obsession. He plays table soccer with plastic chips, plays real soccer when he goes outside, and obsessively collects soccer trading cards. As exciting as things are in the world of sports in 1970 Brazil, it is a turbulent time politically. Mauro's parents urgently need to get out of the country for a while, and they tell Mauro that they are going "on vacation."
Mauro is told to stay with his grandfather until his parents return. Unfortunately, Mauro's grandfather passed away just moments before the boy arrived. An old Jewish man named Shlomo (Germano Haiut, Clandestina Felicidade) begrudgingly agrees to look after Mauro for a while, and slowly but surely begins to like him. Meanwhile, Mauro starts to develop relationships with some of the local kids, most notably an energetic young lady named Hanna (Daniela Piepszyk). The Year My Parents Went on Vacation gently examines this crucial part of Mauro's life and warmly presents this innocent coming-of-age tale set against a rough historical backdrop.
I have very mixed feelings about this film. It's the sort of thing I usually like, a gentle and honest story about real human beings. Director Cao Hamburger tells this story without blatant sentiment, remaining absolutely true to reality while adding a generous dose of compassion. However, I found The Year My Parents Went on Vacation just a little bit tiresome. There was not a single moment in this movie that surprised me in the least, not a single revelation that we haven't seen handled better elsewhere. As soon as I learned that this young boy in this politically charged part of the world was a fun-loving soccer fan, I knew that he would be depressed and deflated by the end. As soon as I was told that the old man who "adopted" Mauro hated the boy, I knew that the two characters would be best friends by the film's conclusion. As for the part of the story involving Mauro's parents...I'm not sure that telling this story from Mauro's perspective was a good idea. Yes, we know that his parents haven't really gone "on vacation"...yet the film expects us to act surprised when Mauro discovers this.
Indulge me for just a moment, and I'll tell you a true story. When I was a young boy, I had a dog, a black lab named Little Bear. He was kind of wild and crazy, but he was a wonderful dog. My parents didn't feel the same way. One day I noticed that Little Bear was missing. My parents told me he had gone to live on a farm where there was plenty of space to run around. I bought it. Later, I had another dog, a German Shepherd/Collie mix named Ginger. Sweetest dog in the world, without a doubt. However, she liked to find dead animals and leave them on the doorstep as "presents." My parents weren't crazy about this. Again, I was told that the dog had gone to live on a farm where there was plenty of space to run around.
If I had seen The Year My Parents Went on Vacation as a young kid, I would have found the movie rather insightful. "They didn't REALLY go on a vacation," I would have marveled. Today, being a guy who has had two beloved pets go away "to live on a farm," I don't find this film particularly interesting. The movie is intended as a family film of sorts, and I imagine that younger viewers may actually appreciate it most (assuming they can keep up with the subtitles). Older viewers who know what is going on will sympathize with the kid, but there simply isn't much substance or originality here. The characters might as well be named Heidi and Grandfather. I really do feel like I'm being a bit harsh right now, because this movie doesn't have a mean bone in its body. Kindness goes a pretty long way, but it needs some interesting characters and a solid story to help carry the load.
The DVD transfer is decent, with a low-key and slightly breezy mix of colors presented with pleasing clarity. Sound is fine, with dialogue, music, and sound effects all trying to not to make too much noise. DVD extras include a 10-minute featurette on the making of the film, and 15 minutes of additional interviews. You only need to watch one or the other, as they both cover near-identical material. There are also some bloopers, deleted scenes, and a couple of trailers.
The movie does successfully give us a feeling of what it might have been like to live in Brazil during the early 1970s. People are nervously looking over their shoulders and turning to soccer as often as possible to help them forget about their troubles. The set design is quite effective and immersive, and the understated score nicely accentuates everything without overselling it.
Though most of the film is built around a formulaic story, there are occasional bursts of inspiration that rank as remarkable high points. There is one scene in which Mauro goes to a soccer game and sees a black man for the first time in his life (who happens to be a very effective goalie). Mauro marvels at this man's athletic skill, and after the game declares that he wants to be "a black man who can fly" when he grows up. It's a genuinely unexpected and candid touch that the film desperately needs more of. That particular scene is also matched by every scene featuring young Hanna, played to perfection by newcomer Daniela Piepszyk. I would have loved to see a movie about this resourceful and fascinating character, who secretly makes a substantial income by helping excitable young boys get a peek at women in the clothing store dressing room. Piepszyk has never been in another film, but she simply commands the screen whenever she appears.
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation is the sort of film that has the potential to please a pretty broad audience. It's a sweet, cutesy story with serious elements but never asks us to actually think about them, giving the viewer the feeling they've seen an important film without making a serious intellectual investment. There I go being mean again. The film is nice and well-intentioned, yes. It is also most assuredly nowhere near the level of many similar coming-of-age films such as The 400 Blows.
Guilty, though sentencing will be greatly reduced due to the defendant's good
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Scales of Justice
Studio: City Lights Media
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "Inside the Movie"
* Deleted Scenes