In that historic year, the Brazilian population wasn't just united by one the greatest soccer teams ever assembled. It was also dealing with increasingly aggressive activity by a dictatorship eager to arrest any non-conformists. So while Mauro collects national team trading cards and plays out matches with his tabletop soccer game, his parents rush him from their home, explaining the couple needs to "go on vacation."
In telling the story from Mauro's eyes, director Cao Hamburger (and five writers) doesn't offer names, faces, or specifics. Mauro's parents just drop him off at his grandfather's apartment and head for the hills. Only one problem: Unknown to the family, Grandpa died earlier in the day. Our young hero is forced to make his own way and contend with Shlomo (Germano Haiut), the grandfather's crusty old neighbor in a predominantly Jewish building.
Those early sequences are reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh's Depression-era King of the Hill (1993), about a boy getting by in a hotel without his family. Joelsas, nominated for a Young Artist Award, rummages through loneliness, confusion, and even independence as he takes over Grandpa's apartment. All the while, he's afraid to roam too far from the telephone in case his parents call, one of the film's sadder touches. And when Mauro does try calling his old apartment, Hamburger shows us the warmth and safety (and danger) of the empty living room -- and even we feel a little homesick.
Mauro and Shlomo become buddies, of course, but Mauro learns much more from the diverse world that surrounds him. He teams up with a few kids (led by adorable São Paolo-born newcomer Daniela Piepszyk) to play soccer, gawk at women in a dressing room, and meet the people in the community. Italians, Jews, and Blacks make up Mauro's new landscape, filling in the slots of his life like those soccer cards filling up his collection book.
Hamburger's coming-of-age story breathes within this larger mosaic of race, ethnicity, religion, and politics, and many of the film's memorable scenes have those issues at center. In the middle of a particularly gritty soccer match between Italian and Jewish kids, Mauro believes he sees his parents' car. Spellbound, he races from the field mid-action as an opponent mutters, "Just like a typical Jew." So while he chases the car, a tyke-filled ethnic rumble erupts. It's a skillful combination of humor, sadness, and tension.
Thankfully, that earlier dressing room/peeping tom sequence is about as stereotypical as the film gets. There's no first kiss, no moments of soon-to-be-a-teenager clarity. With very little fanfare, Mauro's life eventually moves on as quickly as it first changed when his parents' "vacation" began. We've witnessed just one intense summer in a life that will probably be much longer, and filled with more pivotal moments and glory years for Brazilian football.
Aka O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias.
At least they could have brought them some lousy t-shirts.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 2nd November 2006
Distributed by: City Lights Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 44 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Cao Hamburger
Producer: Caio Gullane, Fabiano Gullane, Cao Hamburger, Fernando Meirelles
Screenwriter: Claudio Galperin, Cao Hamburger, Bráulio Mantovani, Anna Muylaert
Starring: Germano Haiut as Shlomo, Michel Joelsas as Mauro, Paulo Autran as Mótel, Mauro's grandfather, Simone Spoladore as Bia - Mauro's mother, Eduardo Moreira as Daniel, Mauro's father, Caio Blat as Ítalo, Daniela Piepszyk as Hanna, Liliana Castro as Irene, Rodrigo dos Santos as Edgar
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