I’m always interested in how a nation or culture deals with the memory of a collective trauma, especially a relatively recent one. In the case of Brazil, how does the nation look back on the fact that it had a twenty year long military dictatorship?
In 1964, the military overthrew the democratically elected leftist president in the name of national security and shut down Congress. The military government then censored media and restricted freedom of speech, forcing many leftist citizens into exile. Within the country, countless were jailed, tortured and assassinated.
The 2006 film O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias or The Year My Parents Went on Vacation takes on this repressive time period by telling a story through the eyes of an average citizen. Set in 1970, an 11 year old boy named Mauro is left with his grandfather as his leftist parents go “on vacation,” i.e., flee from persecution. His grandfather dies suddenly, so he is taken care of by an older neighbor and the surrounding Jewish community in the immigrant neighborhood of Bom Retiro, São Paulo. Mauro slowly adjusts to a new life, but earnestly waits for his parents to return to watch the World Cup.
During this time period, as human rights abuses worsened and public outcry grew, the government built more soccer stadiums and promoted the sport, the Brazilian people’s circuses. President Médici even replaced the coach for the 1970 national team, leading them to win the World Cup. Coupled with the “Brazilian Miracle,” or period of exceptional economic growth, it served to boost Brazil’s image, with the underlying message being that the government was great and their actions justified. (You can find out more information about the link between the Brazilian military dictatorship and soccer here.)
The film takes place in the immigrant neighborhood of Bom Retiro. With its Luz train station, Bom Retiro served as a point of entry for many immigrants, as they took the train from the Santos port into the city of São Paulo. Jewish immigrants had an early presence in Bom Retiro, opening São Paulo’s first synagogue in 1912; they were soon joined by Italians, Armenians, Greeks and Arabs. The neighborhood thrived on textile and garment businesses as well as small trade shops. Today, Koreans dominate the area, with a significant Bolivian population, and it serves as a popular spot to get inexpensive fashion.
Director Cao Hamburger and his siblings briefly lived with his grandparents when his parents were arrested in 1970. He has stated in interviews that his intention was to show how the protagonist survived under an oppressive regime and even enjoyed happy moments. The film juxtaposes the excitement of the World Cup with the the sobering climate of fear and repression. It is clear though that the heart of the film lies within the Bom Retiro community and the rituals of daily life. Often times it is easy to forget Mauro is living under a dictatorship as he develops a crush on the girl from the lanchonete or plays street soccer with the other kids in the neighborhood. While it is not an overtly political film, it definitely seems to be an overtly Brazilian one. In the face of hardship and terror, the message is to keep moving forward.
Below is the trailer for the film: