DIr: Cao Hamburger. Brazil 2007. 103 mins.
An emotionally-efficient kids’ movie for grown-ups, Cao Hamburger’s secondfeature uses Brazil’s triumphal progress in the 1970 World Cup as the background to a story about the painful learning process a 12-year-oldboy is forced to embark on when his left-wing activist parents areforced underground by the increasingly repressive military regime.
As a tale of pre-adolescent anguish alleviated by everyday kindness of the Jewish community that adopts the boy, it’s affecting enough, but the film’s sentimental punches are muffled by an excess of polish, and by the way it strives a little too earnestly to be liked.
It’s not quite desparecido-Disney, but almost - and so it comes as no surprise that Buena Vista International is distributing The Year My Parents... in Latin America. Elsewhere, the film’s universal, feelgood soccer theme and undeniable nose for the more sophisticated end of the family market should drum up interest in several territories.
The subject, and the title, prompt inevitable comparisons with Kusturica’s When Father Was Away on Business; even the World Cup backdrop is common to both films. But Kusturica’s 1985 Palme d’Or winner managed to be both more acute about the politics behind its parental vanishing act and more moving as a childs-eye-view account of the trauma.
Shot entirely in a palette of washed-out, autumnal colours, the film gets the parents’ anxious departure out of the way right at the beginning.
The logic of the script requires that they are in such a paranoid rush as to leave him outside his grandfather’s apartment block in the multi-ethnic Sao Paolo suburb of Buen Retiro.
But grandpa’s not in, and introspective, moody, football-mad Mauro (a watchable, though not entirely spontaneous performance by young first-timer Michel Joelsas) soon learns that he died of a heart attack that morning - leaving him all alone in the world with little more than a football and his Brazil team figurines for company.
Reluctantly taken in by his grandfather’s elderly Orthodox Jewish neighbour, a crusty old bachelor called Shlomo (Germano Haiut, who turns in a fine, unsentimental performance), Mauro first connects with a feisty young girl of his own age, Hannah (Daniela Piepszyk), and is eventually adopted by the whole local community, which is presented, perhaps with a touch of soft-focus nostalgia, as a lively but basically happy ethnic melting pot.
As he waits for the return of his parents, the World Cup begins, while mounted troops crack down on the left-wing students who are occupying the university.
There’s something a little too by-the-book about the way these themes and emotional arcs are woven together: one yearns for the occasional rough edge. But it looks great, thanks to Adriano Goldman’s limpid, shallow-focus photography, and Beto Villares’ soundtrack adds to the sheen of the exercise, switching seamlessly between breathy jazz-inflected classical mood music and full-on 1970s samba retro.