Tenants embraces lost boy in film

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The Year My Parents Went On Vacation is the story of a boy whose parents are forced into hiding, leaving him in the care of a building full of Jewish families. It is not a tale of the Shoah but this touching, sometimes funny, drama is set in 1970 Brazil, during both the soccer madness of Pele’s quest for the World Cup and a repressive government’s crackdown on political dissidents.

The Year My Parents Went On Vacation , a Brazilian film of warmth and wisdom with a mix of comic and dramatic elements, opens at the Plaza Frontenac Theater on Friday, April 11, for at least a one-week run. The film is in Portuguese, Yiddish and German, with English subtitles. The Jewish Film Festival sponsored a preview screening at Plaza Frontenac on the Wednesday before the film’s opening.

The sweetly funny and touching film will appeal to anyone who likes a coming-of-age story and those who love soccer as well.

It is 1970 and excitement is high in soccer-mad Brazil as the country heads towards the World Cup and the chances of victory for Pele and the Brazilian team. But political tensions are running high also. The repressive government is cracking down on political dissidents and universities, and twelve-year-old Mauro’s (Michel Joelsas) parents hurriedly are preparing to flee. They take Mauro to Sao Paulo, where he is to stay with his Jewish paternal grandfather Motel (Paulo Autran) and tell anyone who asks that his parents are on vacation. Mauro’s father Daniel (Eduardo Moreira) promises him they will return in time for the World Cup.

In Sao Paulo, Mauro’s parents drop him off at his grandfather apartment building, next to his grandfather’s barbershop, and quickly drive off. Wandering through the apartment building, Mauro is puzzled to find it full of people speaking a language unfamiliar to him, Yiddish. Then tragedy strikes and his grandfather dies, leaving Mauro alone. A neighbor, Shlomo (Germano Haiut), a white haired Polish Jew, takes Mauro in, helping him through the funeral and mourning. However, Shlomo is shocked to discover that Mauro has not been raised Jewish. Disturbed by this discovery, the residents of the building meet with their congregation’s rabbi. In the heated discussion, Shlomo assures them the boy is a gentile, and someone mentions that his mother is not Jewish and suggests they send him to an orphanage. But the rabbi silences them, and tells Shlomo that God has placed the boy in his care, like Moses in the basket, and Shlomo must honor that.

However, it is not just Shlomo who takes the boy in but everyone in the whole building, embracing him and calling him Moishel. Anticipating both the World Cup and his parents’ return, Mauro befriends the kids in the building, including a girl his age named Hanna (Daniela Piepszyk), develops a crush on a beautiful young woman named Irene (Liliana Castro) who works in the local caf é, and joins the Jewish kids’ soccer team, who have a friendly rivalry with the nearby Italian kids.

Much of the comedy in the film comes from the kids and their adventures, and everyone’s high spirits about the race for the World Cup. The comic elements are balanced by the more serious political tensions and concerns about Mauro’s missing parents. The people in the apartment building are from all over the world, but all share both the same Jewish heritage and the same love of soccer. The story is well-told, a well-acted and paced film that finds the right balance between its lighter and darker elements. Germano Haiut’s performance as Shlomo is quite affecting and both Michel Joelsas, as Mauro, and Daniela Piepszyk, as playful and enterprising Hanna, are appealing.

Sign up for Your Morning Light