The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

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Directed by Cao Hamburger. Written by Claudio Galperin, Braulio Mantovani, Anna Muylaert and Hamburger. Starring Michel Joelsas, Germano Haiut, Daniela Piepszyk, Caio Blat, and Rodrigo dos Santos. Running time: 105 Minutes. Not rated. In Portuguese, Yiddish and Hebrew with English subtitles.

What 12-year-old Mauro (Michel Joelsas) doesn’t know won’t hurt him. That’s the logic his cautious parents use as they leave him in São Paulo to stay with a grandfather he’s never met and head for an open-ended "vacation" in an undisclosed location. "Exile" is one word Mauro learns in 1970 during their absence, but when they drop him at an apartment building in that city’s ethnically diverse Bom Retiro district, Mauro’s biggest concern is whether Brazil will qualify for the upcoming World Cup.

With the ease of a natural storyteller, director and co-writer Cao Hamburger deftly establishes Mauro’s soccer fever, his close relationship to his parents, who’ve run afoul of Brazil’s unforgiving dictatorship, and the Jewish identity his father left behind. He also sets Mauro on a path from sheltered, well-loved child unaware of his tenuous situation to a boy wide awake to the possibilities and dangers of life.

The hastily planned family reunion doesn’t happen, and Mauro is discovered waiting on his grandfather’s doorstep by an elderly neighbor, Shlomo (Germano Haiut). Addressing him first in Yiddish and then Portuguese, Shlomo is shocked to discover Mauro has no knowledge of his grandfather’s sudden death, and no way to contact his parents. Taciturn and solitary, Shlomo reluctantly takes him in, sharing the responsibility with the tightly knit Jewish community who once embraced Mauro’s grandfather and father.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation addresses political repression, religious identity and cultural assimilation in the context of an intimate coming-of-age tale, and does it without cloying sentimentality or didactic sloganeering. Hamburger beautifully blends the 1970 World Cup (May 31 to June 21 in Mexico City) into the storyline, emphasizing games where the seemingly unstoppable Brazilian lineup, led by Pelé, seemed vulnerable, such as the First Round showdown with Czechoslovakia.

Year excels at capturing a child’s perspective and expressing it within a larger context, giving both Mauro and Shlomo their due. The performances overall are natural and unselfconscious, but the unvarnished honesty and strong personalities of the child actors here are a marvel, particularly Daniela Piepszyk’s dynamic Hanna.

Hamburger’s movie isn’t nostalgic. It actually looks as if it were made in 1970s, capturing the specific feel — loose yet sharply observant — of that freewheeling decade’s cinema. Year has the vibrant immediacy of a game played to win, with the knowledge that goals aren’t guaranteed. —Serena Donadoni

Opens Friday, April 4, at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.

Opens Friday, April 4, at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.

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