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November 8, 2007 By:
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Michel Joelsas as Mauro

Soccer as succor for the weary when the World Cup is half-empty rather than half-filled?

Such is the glass life -- easily shattered, jaggedly edged -- that Mauro morbidly must live through when the youngster's peripatetic parents, burdened with the baggage that comes from being Jewish lefties in Catholic-righteous Brazil, get the boot from their Belo Horizonte burg that not even Pelé would be pleased with.

Forced to flee the military monsters who question their quiet riot of politics in no-nonsense 1970, Miriam and Daniel Stein steal off into the unknown, sending their 12-year-old an early Bar Mitzvah gift of self-discovery. As he's dropped off at his grandfather's in Sao Paulo, Mauro unceremoniously finds out that his zayda is zed -- dropped dead just before his arrival.

And such is how "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" -- an evening of wonderful filmmaking -- begins its composition-titled tilt at the heart, receiving its regional premiere this weekend at the gala start of Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival 27.

Screenings are Saturday night through Monday, interspersed with a Sunday-evening showing of "My Mexican Shivah" -- has JCC gotten hip to Hispanic filmmaking -- at the Gershman Y in Center City.

This is not a "Vacation" Chevy Chase would chase after: Golden with g-o-a-l, "My Parents" is family-friendly, with Uncle Oscar possibly on board, too: It has just been entered by Brazil in the foreign film category for the Oscar 2008 chase.

It may very well kick its competition to the curb. Its brio at Rio -- where its salsa/seltzer sense spritzed its way to the Audience Award at that city's international film festival -- is a step in the right direction.

Nursing those baby steps is the leading man of a director who choreographed its movement with churrascaria ("steakhouse")-style chutzpah: Director Cao Hamburger, who's sandwiched semi-autobiographical fact with friction and may be the header to top at the Oscars.

The 45-year-old native of Sao Paulo pole-vaults his way into the soul with samba sadness and sense, as the youngster on screen nervously awaits his parents' return, while the returns are in that the country has no space left for compassionate compadres such as the Steins.

It takes a Yiddish village to raise a child, and Mauro is more than taken care of by the motley neighbors -- many of whom speak Yiddish -- with the World Cup just a drink away for brazen Brazil.

Mauro and mamaloshen ... Hamburger and Hebrew? Where's the beef? It's all there, says Hamburger, meeting the past with the present.

"Oh, my English not so good," he says as we talk of Jews and soccer and Oscar -- the trifecta of treasures he's pointed his toes to -- prior to the movie's debut here.

Oh, but the English spin on this soccer ball of a film certainly is. And it all -- or much of it -- hits home. "My writing partner (Claudio Galperin) convinced me to revisit the spirit of my childhood," reveals Hamburger, whose home upbringing was at the hands of Ernst Wolfgang Hamburger, his Jewish/German father, and Amelia Imperio Hamburger, his mom of Italian ancestry.

"My parents had problems with dictatorship and were arrested," finding their vacation home a hellhole of a jail.

It has been a real experience and a Brazilian real -- the nation's currency -- experience, too. Its currency exchange has caught on with other countries as well, earning attention, acclaim and box-office business since opening last year in Brazil.

"I found out it was good for me," says Hamburger of "the visit" to a past that would dumbfound and fatigue even Friedrich Duerrenmatt.

"It is pretty much what I remember of that period," he says of the not-so-seductive '70s militia with a Brazilian bracing against internecine enemy intrusion on his own turf.

Light at the end of the junta? While Mauro more or less is in the dark about where his folks are, "we knew where mine were."

And where their hearts were as well: "They weren't activists as in film, but helped people deal with political problems."

Cao was not a problem -- neither were the Hamburgers' four other children, who, while their parents spent "not a long time" in jail, were raised by their grandmothers. One grandmother was a bubba; the other, a nonna -- but none too giddy a time for the kids.

"It was a very strange period for the children," allows Hamburger of himself and four siblings.

Rooting for Brazil to take the World Cup, they were also rooted in the Jewish world: "We consider ourselves Jews -- what I have is what I feel about Jewish culture ... that comes from my father and grandmother and uncles."

Indeed, Bubba Hamburger wasn't exactly chopped liver where she lived.

"She was very important in the Jewish community of Sao Paulo," says her grandson.

"She helped poor Jewish children, running a house," and here he hunts for the right word, "like orphanage, taking care of poor Jewish children during World War II."

It's a Jewish/Catholic world -- and welcome to it, Hamburger learned early on. "I have strong contact with Jewish culture, but, on other hand, with Catholic culture as well."

He adds with a shrug in his voice, "Brazil is like that."

It's like this. "On Rosh Hashanah, when I was 15, I went to one grandmother's and had Italian lunch."

Pass the parm; here comes the prachas: "Then at night, I went to my Jewish grandmother for the holiday. And after that, I went to rehearsal in Sunday school. I will never forget that Sunday."

Neither will film-goers forget or forsake his memorable onscreen Mauro. But then neither will Hamburger's writing partner. "He speaks a little bit of Yiddish; in fact, he spent time in that neighborhood in the film."

Hamburger never spent much time discussing the year his family "went on vacation" with them. "There wasn't very much talk between us; we had silence."

But that silence spoke loudly of the lost year: "I knew my mother and father had bad experience at that time when they were arrested. But we never talked about it."

Until now. His parents, who recently saw the movie, really liked it, says the son.

Like an award-awakening that the film is, it revitalized their own relationship. "After the film," says the proud cinematically successful son, " we had more conversations. It was good for us."

As any goalkeeper knows -- Hamburger was one for the neighborhood team as a kid, pulling himself up by the bootstraps -- it's keeping the enemy at bay that makes for a net prophet.

And now, the handsome Hamburger has made peace with the past through this anything-but-weak "Vacation."

"This movie," he says of its bimah of light and its score at a scarred heart of the boy-become-man, "this movie is my Bar Mitzvah."

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