Arts & Culture

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation: Good, or Just Jewish?

Oscar season has come and gone, leaving behind a list of winners, a few great catchphrases (“your eggo is preggo”… um, and something about milkshakes), and people like me with an even longer list of movies to see this winter … Read More

By / March 7, 2008

Oscar season has come and gone, leaving behind a list of winners, a few great catchphrases (“your eggo is preggo”… um, and something about milkshakes), and people like me with an even longer list of movies to see this winter (thanks a lot, academy.) As was reported by Jewcy, this year’s best foreign film award went to legitimately good and simultaneously Jewish film, The Counterfeiters, hailing from Austria. What you might not know is that Brazil’s submission to this Oscar category, the un-nominated O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Féria (“The Year My Parents Went on Vacation”) is also creating a little bit of buzz these days in the realm of Jewish media.

The film was released over a year ago in Brazil before making appearances at film festivals abroad in 2007, including at Cannes and Tribeca. It even picked up a few awards. It has been shown in limited screenings in the US since last month. But the question remains: is it actually any good?

Set in 1970’s Brazil, “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” is the story of Mauro, a Brazilian pre-teen who is too distracted by Pelé and Brazil’s World Cup campaign to understand the turmoil taking place in his country under its military dictatorship. When his parents, members of the left-wing resistance movement, are forced to go into hiding, they deliver little Mauro into the care of his grandfather under the pretense that they are going on vacation. But their intended plans go awry, and Mauro is transferred into the care of his grumpy, yet kind hearted neighbor, Shlomo, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe and active member of his neighborhood’s Orthodox community. Mauro and Shlomo end up forming a unique friendship, learning about each other’s cultures and about themselves.

It’s a familiar sort of story. Maybe too familiar, according to New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott. Although he believes the movie to be “charming,” Scott feels that audiences have heard this story before. Luckily, its likability is able to transcend the plot’s tiredness at times. Writes Scott:

“The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” is most seductive when it focuses on the details of daily life in the lower-middle-class São Paulo neighborhood Bom Retiro. The rhythms of commerce, worship and domesticity — the sounds of apartment house courtyards, synagogues and shops — frequently overshadow what turns out to be a fairly conventional and sentimental story. Though the milieu is, for most viewers, novel, the emotional elements of the film, to say nothing of its characters, are reassuringly if also somewhat disappointingly familiar.

Jan Stuart of Newsday agrees, saying that in certain parts of the film there “contains a glimmer of a great movie wanting to break out.”

On the other hand, the Forward loves this movie, calling it “a Jewish cinema gem.” One bit of insight that reviewer Elissa Strauss adds to the previous reviews is that although the film drags at times, it is not because it is filled with boring Jewish stereotypes.

Through this boredom emerges a surprisingly un-exotic portrait of Jewish immigrants. At no point are we bombarded with violins, forced to drool over warm challah or seduced by the flickering flame of a Sabbath candle…As a result, the Brazilian Jews in the film are neither saintly nor suspect. If anything, they are ordinary: They cook, they clean, they work, they sleep. The non-Jewish Brazilians in the movie receive the same treatment, and the characters move beyond the sensuality and violence that usually mark their cinematic portrayals. For both groups, the mundane is rather becoming.

This characteristic, in itself, has the potential to make this movie worth seeing. Although it isn’t perfect, “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” is delightful at best and less than two hours long at least.