In the film's final scene, 12-year-old Mauro (Michel Joelsas) sits next to his mother in the back seat of a taxi and delivers a pat summation: "And that's what 1970 was like." Sure his left-wing parents were forced underground for their political affiliations, leaving him abandoned with total strangers in a strange city, but the pain of loss and social upheaval are at least tempered by the Brazilian soccer team—led by Pele—which won its third World Cup that year. And that's just what the year was all about.
When the final credits roll, the audience is left with the same indifferent shrug: "And that's what The Year My Parents Went on Vacation was like." The film has some poignant moments and the soccer metaphor lends some unexpected depth to the story—both as it relates to Mauro and the country as a whole—but overall the film stumbles into the realm of "enjoyable enough."
In 1970 Brazil, where civil liberties were quickly eroding under a harsh military dictatorship, Mauro's parents leave him on his grandfather's doorstep in Sao Paulo to "go on vacation." Unbeknownst to the three of them, his grandfather has suddenly passed away. Left on his own without a way to contact his parents, his grandfather's Jewish neighbor begrudgingly takes charge of him.
As time passes, Mauro eventually rebuilds a new life in the city. He makes friends with a spunky tomboy, crushes on a cafe waitress, idolizes the waitress' goalie boyfriend, makes peace with his de facto guardian and learns to take care of himself. His parents promise to return for the World Cup, and when the game rolls around, they mostly keep their promise.
In Portuguese and Yiddish, much of what's communicated in The Year is what's said without being said. Because the audience is at the mercy of Mauro's point of view, we never discover where his parents have gone or exactly why. We're not privy to hear conversations we see taking place. The film is the world as a 12-year-old knows it, focused on sports and friends in between the moments of despair.
However that world gets tedious for brief intervals, and likely that's intentional on the part of the filmmakers. Mauro's boredom on screen outweighs his anger, except in a few moments. A combination of empathy for him and curiosity keep viewers hanging on until the end.
Cinematically the film could've been dug out of a time capsule buried in 1970 Sao Paulo. Brazil's European and African cultural amalgamation was typified by Bom Retiro, the neighborhood where The Year is set. Today Bom Retiro better reflects the country's more recent faces of immigrants from Korea and Bolivia. The political and social tensions, while they're focal to the story, are little more than scents wafting over a few scenes. Each has definitive presence in the background, but, like Mauro, we rarely come face to face with it.
Sao Paulo native Joelsas commands nearly every scene in an impressive performance. First time actress Daniela Piepszyk, who plays Mauro's sassy tomboy pal, is a charismatic counterpart. And Germano Haiut, as Mauro's caretaker, carries the burden of the boy as a tired and exasperated aging man. At just under two hours, The Year is the standout choice when nothing else at the box office strikes your fancy. You may not leave the theater feeling like you've just seen the next blockbuster indie, but you won't leave with the feeling that you've wasted time or money.
Directed by Cao Hamburger
Starring Michel Joelsas, Daniela Piepszyk, Germano Haiut
Rated PG, Opens Friday at Flicks