Tag: brazil

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★

Although it presents the viewers with a colorful mix of wide-ranging subjects, from humorous byproducts of culture shock to a country in the grip of a grim military dictatorship, Cao Hamburger’s “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” never wavers from letting us absorb the story from the perspective of a twelve-year-old child. This great focus is especially effective during the most dramatic moments when lives are irrevocably changed. At one point the audience is left to wonder what will become of the boy, how his collective experience in the multiethnic district in São Paulo would shape the man he will become.

Not once does the film reduce the child into a stereotype. Compare this to American Hollywood pictures, especially comedies, in which children are almost always shown to be some kind of magnet for trouble and their biggest fear is punishment of some kind. It is significantly more subtle here, more relatable, and certainly more honest about how it is like to be a pre-teen. As children, we have all been in situations where we found ourselves in trouble and for a second or two we had no idea what we did to deserve proper scolding.

This effective snapshot of childhood is due to the director’s ability to make one smart decision after another to allow the audience to observe that at times Mauro (Michel Joelsas) fails to take into account possible repercussions of his actions even though he is a good kid. Hamburger commands a high level of control from behind the camera, particularly having the patience in allowing scenes to unfold organically. A child’s curiosity almost always trumps a child’s fear of punishment. It is exciting to watch because it breeds unpredictability.

Images are captured beautifully, particularly the early 1970s vibe of a country undergoing political turmoil. Although the story is filtered through the eyes of a child, there are serious implications to be discovered and digested given that one can be bothered to look a little more closely, especially in the background of a public space. Look underneath the veneer of football-obsessed culture and notice faces that are deathly afraid of being pointed out or being implicated as a communist.

I enjoyed small moments that capture a young person’s curiosity. An example is how the camera focuses on Mauro’s face for an extra beat as he wonders about why important adults in his life (Germano Haiut, Caio Blat) are whispering by the window. Could these secret conversations be about his parents who decided to go on “vacation”? We are provided numerous scenes that depict a child’s innocence being hammered by adult-oriented external factors and it is refreshing how Hamburger manages to find different ways to show how a young person processes a set of actions.

It is apparent that those involved in making “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” have true understanding of child psychology. Notice how so many scenes rarely have anything to do with the main plot. This is because the material is aware of what sort of things create lasting impressions on a child. Playing with other kids in the neighborhood, creating social contracts with them; realizing that adults are not always strong, that they are vulnerable, have weaknesses, yet seemingly ready at putting on masks of strength and perseverance; wrestling with one’s feelings of abandonment, that parents will not always be around for support. Here is a film that offers rich details for those willing to look.

The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Blind teenager Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) longs independence from his parents, classmates, the ennui of the every day. Along with his best and only friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), he laments over the general lack of excitement of being in high school. Things begin to look up, however, when he meets a new student named Gabriel (Fabio Audi), someone who is unlike the other boys in his class.

“The Way He Looks,” written and directed by Daniel Ribeiro, is an LGBTQ picture that radiates honesty and with that quality it is already lightyears from its contemporaries. It neither relies on overt sexuality to be sexy nor a syrupy romance to get us to invest in the lives of the three Brazilian teenagers. Its approach is simple but effective: it shows the characters’ insecurities, how they deal with their problems, and the reconciliation, if any, that occurs when or if they learn to mature a little bit.

There is an organic feel to the look of the film. It benefits from not one scene being shot in a studio. When we are inside Leo’s house, we notice the decorations on the walls, the knickknacks on the side tables, how lived in it all feels. When a scene is set at school, the floors are not shiny, the desks appear as though they have been used for years, certain corridors look like they need a bit of polishing. Because of its realistic look and feel, it establishes a certain tone—that we are looking at real lives being lived in real places.

Leo’s arguments with his parents, too, are executed with realism. Watching them felt like I was being intrusive at times. The disagreements come across as genuine, from the tone and pitch of their voices to how close they get to one another physically. The words chosen and how they are delivered are not glossy or hyper-articulate. It makes these scenes very relatable and there were a couple of times when I could not help but think back to certain instances when I was upset with my parents after a long day of school.

The friendships among the three are sweet. Throughout the course of the picture, we discover how the dynamics of their relationships work. Sometimes they are fragile but surprisingly strong at times. There is a great metaphor introduced in the middle which involves the sun, the moon, and the earth when an eclipse occurs. Furthermore, there is a theme involving fear of losing a strong connection throughout—whether it be of a long-lasting friendship or a potential romance.

I enjoyed that sometimes it isn’t clear what a character wants exactly. We try to figure it out. Is the truth hidden in behavior? How one looks at another? How one acts when he or she is by herself? That confusion is tackled here in a fresh way. It is essential that it is communicated with clarity. After all, it is a part of being young and still trying to figure out one’s identity.

“Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho” ends right where it should and yet I could not help but want to see more of Leo, Gi, and Gabriel’s lives after it wrapped up. The feeling I had as it finished reminded me of a similar sentiment, somewhere along the lines of saying goodbye to a good friend. You know you’re not going to see this friend for a long time and so a part of you is sad. At the same time, that friendship is very secure so fear is not at all a part of having to step away.


Brazil (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★

When an innocent man was taken by the police and tortured to death, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), who worked for a passively tyrannical (and ultimately incompetent) government, was assigned to take a closer look at the computer error. Despite being aware that the many confusing bureaucracies that often led to dead-ends didn’t always serve the citizens’ best interests, Sam chose to retreat to his fantasy world when he felt overwhelmed. In his daydream, he was a powerful winged warrior who dueled a Samurai in order to rescue a beautiful woman. Reality and fantasy collided when Sam ran into Jill (Kim Greist), sharing great resemblance to the girl of his dreams, a woman suspected of terrorist activities like bombing public places. Directed by Terry Gilliam, “Brazil” was an adventurous satire that is worth viewing multiple times. There were heavy symbolisms, like a man being eaten by paperwork, and scenes that didn’t always fit into the big picture. For instance, the two electricians who seemed to gain some sick pleasure torturing Sam as they slowly took over his home. Granted, the scenes were very funny especially when Robert De Niro’s mysterious character appeared to lend Sam a helping hand. However, the picture was most fascinating when it tackled the absurd. Sam’s mother (Katherine Helmond) and her friends were obsessed with plastic surgery. Despite the many “complications,” they were willing to go back and endure the pain of having their skin cut up and stretched up to their scalp. It was almost like watching an addiction. It was hilarious but it held some semblance of truth in today’s obsession with youth and its relationship with the magic of science. What I found strange was how romantic the movie was at times. The film referenced Michael Curtiz’ “Casablanca” and its influence showed. The courtship scenes between Sam and Jill were silly and tender, yet it had darkness looming over the edge as something bigger than both of them threatened their budding relationship. It was interesting that Jill had the more masculine qualities, like driving a big truck that she called her cab, while Sam was the hopeless romantic who was hesitant to take action. Lastly, I found the final twenty minutes to be very hypnotic. While it didn’t make much sense as a whole, like in our dreams, sometimes the parts were more meaningful. What Sam went through personified the nightmare of the dystopian world that he and his loved ones happened to inhabit. “Brazil” was an ambitious and imaginative film which was not unlike watching someone’s dreams. It requires a bit of thinking from us and, more importantly, recognition that our government and society may be heading in a similar direction.