Innocence in Exile

    {grate 3} Diehard soccer fans know that 1970 was a landmark year in
    the sport’s history — one of the greatest teams ever to play brought home Brazil’s
    third World Cup. It was also a year of political unrest in the South American
    country, when left-minded activists were openly hunted by the tightening grip
    of Brazil’s
    then-fascist government. “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” is the story of
    the turbulent time, told innocently and ignorantly through the eyes of a child
    named Mauro.

    We pick up the youth’s tale as his parents, a pair of
    militant leftists, drop him off outside his grandfather’s apartment on their
    way out of the country. They’re fleeing for their lives, but as far as Mauro
    knows, they’re simply going on “vacation,” an unsatisfying, if all too convenient,
    euphemism for political exile. Mauro, not blind to this protective deception
    but far from understanding, watches them speed away, alone on his grandfather’s
    porch, his suitcase beside him and his soccer ball under his arm.

    In the middle of a Jewish suburb in the Brazilian city of Sao
    Paulo
    , he knocks tentatively at the door. But his
    grandfather, a barber, isn’t home. In a tragic turn of fate, he had died
    suddenly in the middle of a shave that very morning, and Mauro is left stranded
    outside, deperately ringing the bell, not knowing it will never be answered.

    Childish ignorance is the main focus of Cao Hamburger’s
    first feature film. “Year” explores the power of ignorance for better and for
    worse, as young Mauro is swept into a world too complex even for the adults
    around him to understand. The virtually orphaned child is quickly taken in by a
    neighbor, Shlomo, and the entire Jewish community eagerly rallies to lend a
    hand.

    Convinced by his Rabbi that God put this child at his door
    for a reason, Shlomo takes it upon himself to protect the boy until his
    parent’s return, if they return. The caretaker is instantly lovable as an old
    bachelor fumbling over his self-imposed responsibility for this “goy”
    (non-Jewish child). While Mauro gets to know the neighboring children and falls
    in love with a nearby waitress, Shlomo begins to make contacts in the political
    underworld in search of the boy’s parents. Though the ensuing odd couple antics
    are predictable, the strange mix of Yiddish and Brazilian, synagogues and soccer
    fields, creates a charming narrative.

    When the truth of his parents’ exile gets within earshot,
    the community of Jewish elders work hard to shield Mauro from the painful truth
    that his parents may already be captured, or much worse. They also shield
    themselves from the harsh political reality around them by indulging in their
    nation’s proudest heritage, their football team. Poetically, the story doesn’t
    condemn these people for their escapism; instead it demonstrates how sports
    unite people. It allows an atypical community to bond in a way that might
    otherwise be impossible. Despite their differences, Brazilians and Hasidics
    join together to cheer for their team, and find respite, not just diversion,
    from the frenzy outside their doors.

    “Year” is a subtle story, and one that’s well told. The
    major dramatic tones may rise from politics — Mauro is orphaned by the
    country’s dictatorship — but as the story is told strictly from a child’s
    perspective, it’s really just about soccer, and a boy who misses his parents.

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