The mouthful that is "The Year My Parents Went On Vacation" is one of those charming and earnest movies that pain me with frustration -- but not in the way that you think. It's mainly because when a movie comes along that's charming and earnest, that's pretty much all I can say about it.
Don't get me wrong; "Vacation" is a good movie. A somber, forgiving number, it's a coming-of-age dramedy that virtually seems to exist only to win you over. If it doesn't -- well, you're just empty and hollow inside, man!
Set during Brazil circa 1970, it's all about a boy (Michel Joelsas) -- but then again isn't it always? He's a 12-year-old soccer junkie, and his parents are set to have him stay at his Jewish grandfather's place in São Paulo. Once he's there, they tell him that they're going "on vacation," glossing over the fact that they're leftist political activists on the run. Little do his parents know that between their making the call that they'd be dropping him off, and actually doing so, Grandpa dropped dead in his own barbershop.
With this youngster left all alone, wondering when his parents are going to return or even call, he is reluctantly taken in by Shlomo (Germano Haiut), his grandfather's (ex-)next-door neighbor. After a brief, rocky start, Shlomo looks after the boy, as well as everybody else in the neighborhood.
You obviously get the sense, with the reserved reverence and nostalgic nuances with which co-writer/director Cao Hamburger handles the story, that the movie is somewhat autobiographical. Just like our main character, Hamburger grew up of mixed heritage. Of course, that also explains why Hamburger emphasizes the cultural melting-pot aspect of São Paulo in the movie. Jewish, Portuguese, Greek, African -- in the eyes of that little boy, they all were in the same gang.
I will give "Vacation" points for being sentimental without being overly mawkish, even when one important character, off camera, bites the dust in the final act. Just like the boy at the center of this appealing, humane and, yes, emotional trip down memory lane, "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" surprisingly keeps a stiff upper lip -- even when its heart is quietly breaking.