Review: The Year My Parents Went On Vacation
Cao Hamburger’s film O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation) is set in Brazil in 1970. A 12-year-old Mauro’s parents hurriedly leave him at the doorstep of his grandfather’s house, taking off for a ‘vacation’. Soon after the parents speed away, the boy realizes that his grandfather is dead, and he is all alone in a Jewish neighbourhood without any idea of when his parents will return or where they are.
A lot happened in Brazil in 1970. The right-wing government took aggressive steps towards expansion (then known as Integration) in the Amazonian region, it powered its secret police to actively curb opposition, mainly in the form of left-wing activists, there was a focus on development, in order to remove Brazil from the developing nations category and the country was working towards a security policy that would be solidified in 1973 with the entrance of French General Paul Aussaresses. All this, however, recedes into the background when it comes to 1970, because that was the year Brazil won the FIFA World Cup for the third time in a row.
Cao Hamburger’s film places one year in a little boy’s life at its centre to paint a picture of what was happening in Brazil that year. The word ‘vacation’ in this context is not different from the word Missing, as Costa Gavras used it to explain the goings on in Chile.
There are a number of films that have been made with a vision that enables the telling of one simple story to suggest something larger, something political. Cao Hamburger’s film is one such, but its masterstroke is the use of the world cup. References, images and the very notion of the world cup tie the many strains of this film together beautifully, making it, in effect, the central event of the film.
The energy that the world cup brings to this film further highlights the human over the political. The relationships, the atmosphere and the ecstasy that the game engenders makes this film special, and marks the triumph in a way that is more moving than most political films.
Hamburger has also chosen his characters and relationships well. He doesn’t dwell on them or try too hard to psychoanalyse characters, but he focuses on little details of expression or response.
It is not difficult to see that Hamburger has his political or rather, ideological inclinations, but it goes to his credit that they aren’t forced upon the viewer. The story he’s telling is merely of a little boy, and one eventful, somewhat inexplicable year in his life.