Cao Hamburger, "The Year my Parents Went on Vacations": A Tender Story By Myrna Silveira Brandão

in 57th Berlinale

by Myrna Silveira Brandão

The Year my Parents went on Vacations (O Ano em que meus Pais Saíram de Férias), by Cao Hamburger, has moved spectators everywhere and this sort of reaction wasn’t any different at the Berlinale, where it was shown in the main competition.

The story follows Mauro, a twelve years old boy that is suddenly put apart from his parents and sent to São Paulo, where he begins a new life among the Jewish community and a different culture, habits and costumes, as a foreigner in his own country. The time is set in the 70’s, when the military dictatorship in Brazil was at its peak and a World Cup was happening in Mexico.

Mauro’s parents, due to their participation in the urban resistance, are forced to disappear for some time and take ‘vacations’. Taken to São Paulo to stay with his grandfather — who died before the boy arrived — Mauro has to learn to take care of himself and understand the sudden transformations that have happened in his life.

The idea to make this film occurred to Hamburger when he was in England and was constantly annoyed with the clichés and stereotypes the foreigners had about Brazil.

“To them, the country was some kind of jungle, with carnivals the whole year round, football, slums and poverty. I then thought it was important to make a film that showed our ethnical and cultural richness, the millions of immigrants and several other things they ignored,” he said.

Hamburger is the son of a Catholic mother and a Jewish German father — born in Berlin — who came to Brazil during the Second World War. Besides, he is a strong football fan and, for a time, played as a good goalkeeper. Therefore, the film has plenty of personal experiences. But the director also had other things on his mind to tell: “It’s a story of a child that finds himself suddenly in a strange (situation) and living under a dictatorship. In the middle of his suffering, he tries to find some affection and joy in an environment of loneliness and oppression.”

The film tries to make an analogy with Mauro’s arrival in the Jewish community — as a stranger in an unknown territory — and the escape of the Jews from the holocaust. In doing so, it shows how people can live peacefully among other ethnic groups. The work of the actors is A-grade, especially that of Michel Joelsas as Mauro and Daniela Piepszyk as Hanna, in their first appearance on the big screen.

The fact that Hamburger’s story is being told through a child’s perspective gives universal appeal to the film. The reactions and behavior that mark a childhood is very well put on the story, bringing a good amount of empathy to the spectators.

According to Hamburger, there is a parallel between his film and the Chilean Machuca, by Andrés Wood, as well the Argentinean Kamchatka, by Marcelo Piñeyro. The first film follows two boys of different social classes that have their lives completely changed by the military coup leaded by Pinochet in 1973. Kamchatka is about a boy which sees the consequences of the Argentinean dictatorship in his family in the seventies. “It’s something I found to be very interesting. Our films started at the same time, and I think that, in a certain way and without knowing, we made a trilogy about Latin-America as seen through the eyes of children, which, by the way, is the look of my generation. We lived the period of the military dictatorships when we were kids. The other directors, for some reason, felt the necessity of talking about the same period. We then made a trilogy, even involuntary and unconsciously. It’s important, though, to add that they are three films very different from one another, which, as I see it, made the trilogy richer,” says the director.

The metaphor of life in exile, the perfect equilibrium among the historical facts and the personal dramas and, above all, the extreme simplicity under which the story is told, gives The Year my Parents went on Vacations a high emotional charge without, at any moment, falling into false sentimental traps and false arguments.