Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Beautiful Game on Celluloid, Part Four

Spoiler Alert: I assume most people have already seen these films, as a result I discuss the plot as much as I can. I will not try to go into every detail but generalize as much as possible.

Film:   The year My parents Went on vacation (2006)

In the beginning of the Brazilian film ‘The Year My Parents went on Vacation’ (2006) our protagonist Mauro (played by Michel Joelsas), a young boy around ten-eleven years old, is playing a game of table soccer.
In voice over narration we hear him repeat one of his father’s quotes “goalkeepers are not allowed to make mistakes”.
The goalkeeping theme will be an important part of the development of this story.
We also notice his Mother’s anxiety as she is waiting by the window for her Husband, Mauro’s Father, Daniel.
There is an air of intrigue and mystery as to why the father is late. We can also see in Mauro’s face that he knows something is wrong, despite his young age.
As soon as the father arrives, he tells them that they have to leave in a hurry. They pack up suitcases and a soccer ball and drive in the family’s Blue Beetle Volkswagen.
Daniel tells his son that they are going on a “quick vacation”.

From a scroll on the screen we are informed that they are in Belo Horizonte in 1970.
In the car radio, the chatter is about Brazil’s chances in the upcoming World Cup in Mexico. Amongst the topics discussed, the main one appears to be whether Pele and Tostao can co-exist in the same lineup (an absurd thought given we know what happened in the World Cup, but nonetheless a topic of discussion within Brazilian Football circles at the time).
As they are driving, they pass by a military truck full of soldiers. From the parents’ reaction, we get an idea they are probably political dissidents (also given the period in history) and that must be the reason they are leaving.
The plan is to drop off Mauro at his grandfather’s place in Sao Paulo, since according to the father; they have ‘no other choice.’
Once at Sao Paulo, the tall buildings and the diverse set of residents mesmerize Mauro. They tearfully hug and say their goodbyes at the front of the Grandfather’s Apartment complex, leaving Mauro with a suitcase and his soccer ball. They promise him that they will be back in time for the World Cup.
Once Mauro arrives at his Grandfather’s door, he realizes the Grandfather is absent.
It is here that we meet Shlomo for the first time.
Shlomo (played by Germano Haiut), who is the Grandfather’s next-door neighbor, is an elderly religious Jewish man. He informs Mauro that his Grandfather (a local barber) died that same day due to a heart attack. In the funeral, we see that his Grandfather was part of the local Jewish community (mostly elderly).
Shlomo takes pity on Mauro and for the time being becomes his guardian since Mauro has no one else (perhaps also a sense of community, since Mauro’s Grandfather was part of the tightly knit Jewish community).
It is also interesting to note that the community have held onto their roots (religious, as well as Language) and speak in Yiddish as well as the local Portuguese.
Mauro soon becomes friends with one of his neighbors, a young girl around his age named Hanna.
She lives in the same apartment complex with her mother (They are also part of the Jewish community in the neighborhood).
While staying with Shlomo, we occasionally see Mauro with his Panini-like sticker album in anticipation of the World Cup.
For reasons unknown, Shlomo calls him Mauro by the name of Moishale (translate to Moses, perhaps a reference that he is a lost child).
Shlomo has a discussion with the Community and Synagogue elders as to what to do with Mauro, since he cannot permanently look after him. In the meeting, we learn that Mauro’s father, Daniel Stein, is a political dissident and that is the reason why he has fled with his wife. The elders believe that out of loyalty to their old friend (the Grandfather) they will all look after him until the parents return.
We see a montage of Mauro eating at various neighbors’ home, including Hanna’s.
After a while, Mauro barricades himself in his Grandfather’s apartment.
He goes through his Grandfather’s old photographs and belongings, which include a hat and leather gloves (comes into play later).
We soon learn that he does not want to leave the apartment because he is anxiously waiting by the phone, hoping to hear from his parents.
Not wanting to leave, he pays Hanna to buy the sticker for Brazilian player ‘Everaldo’ (only one missing from his Brazil collection on the sticker album), if she ever locates it.
We are also introduced to Italo, a University Student nearby and a member of Students Union. He is politically active against the Government.
Some time later, Mauro finally leaves his place and starts interacting with the other children from the neighborhood (all from the Jewish Community), through Hanna.
Mauro also discovers a nearby Diner, where the locals gather to discuss Soccer, as well as watch matches on Television.
There we are introduced to Irene, the beautiful daughter of the Diner’s owner. We also get glimpses of Irene’s boyfriend, whom the kids in the neighborhood idolize.
In time, Shlomo also warms up to Mauro and invites him to eat at his place.
Eventually, the World Cup arrives and the place basically just shuts down. All the shops are closed and everyone is glued in front of their TV sets (In Black and White and poor reception, remember 1970).
Despite invitations from Hanna to go to the Diner to watch the game, Mauro refuses choosing to stay and watch the match at home.
Once again, Mauro is desperately hoping to get a call from his parents, since they had promised him that they would meet him by the time of the World Cup.
Shlomo decides to go over and they watch the match together and witness Brazil defeat Czechoslovakia (4-1).
Despite still having a faint hope of reuniting with his parents, Mauro is becoming increasingly aware that it will not be as early as he had hoped for.

(Mauro and Shlomo)

As Shlomo is becoming closer to Mauro, he takes it upon himself to investigate the whereabouts of Mauro’s parents. He goes and visits Mauro’s home at Belo Horizonte. He also gets in contact with Italo. It is implied that Italo knows Daniel (Mauro’s father) due to his political activism.
Shlomo’s actions bring him to the attention of Police/Government spies in the University, when he is spotted in one of his discussions with Italo (not realizing that Shlomo’s motives are non-political.)
One day during a neighborhood match between the ‘Jewish’ Team vs. the Italians (including Italo), we finally get to see Irene’s boyfriend (who is of African Ancestry), as the goalkeeper of the Jewish team.
He makes wonderful saves and even stops a penalty kick. It is at this moment that Mauro has the epiphany to become a goalkeeper.
He takes his Grandfather’s leather gloves and starts practicing and imitating goalkeeping techniques at his place.
Now firmly transfixed at being a goalkeeper we see him as the goalkeeper when the kids in the neighborhood are playing soccer.
We also see through documentary Highlights that Brazil is progressing in the World Cup by defeating Peru and Uruguay in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Hanna also gets him the ‘Everaldo’ sticker and the bond between the two grows stronger.
We see the pair dancing at Synagogue function with everyone happy and having fun. This joy is brief as the Police on horseback enter the neighborhood. They start beating and arresting the members of the Student Union at the University.
Italo is able to escape and seeks refuge at Mauro’s place.
That night, the Police come and arrest Shlomo, since he is suspect due to his interactions with Italo.
For the Final match between Brazil and Italy, Mauro watches it at the Diner with his new friends and neighbors, but clearly the events concerning his parents and Shlomo are still in his mind.
We get to see Pele score the first through his famous header, as well as Roberto Boninsegna’s equalizer.
Though we do not see, there are cheers for another goal (most likely Gerson’s Second).
It is at this point that Mauro sees Shlomo being driven back in a police car to his apartment.
He loses interest in the match and goes to see Shlomo (in a completely empty street, as everyone’s watching the game). Once there, he sees Shlomo, with a doctor who is treating Mauro’s mother, who is in a poor physical state (most likely tortured by the authorities).
It appears that Shlomo was able to negotiate her release.
While all this is happening, the scenes cut back to the Final and in black and white documentary footage with music, we see Brazil becoming World Champions at the final whistle and all the celebrations (on the field, as well as in Brazil with people celebrating in the streets) that followed.
In the end Mauro says good-bye and affectionately hugs the once-distant Shlomo, having forged a bond. He also says goodbye To Hanna and leaves her his Soccer Ball as a parting gift.
He departs in a car with his mother to leave the country and live in exile, never to see his father again (his fate is ambiguous and is presumed killed).
In fact, we do not get to hear about the whereabouts and the future of any of the characters. We have to assume that Mauro did not (or could not) return there.
This film works in many levels. It is not strictly a sports nor a political movie. The Social and Sporting events are a backdrop to the story of an adolescent learning to make his way under adverse personal conditions.
The generation of fans, who grew up in the pre-cable/internet eras, will relate with the concept of gathering and watching matches in a group in front of televisions with sometimes poor receptions.
Many of us also had the Panini-type sticker albums and all the joy and excitement associated with collecting those.
Personally, I can relate with the goalkeeping phase, I went through it as well with leather gloves (and a black top with long sleeves, just like Yashin).
The story could have also been about coming of age and first love, had Mauro and Hanna been just a few years older. But at that age it is just the friendship of sweet innocence.
For most Latin-Americans of that generation, where Political instability and Juntas reigned supreme, this is probably a familiar tale (on either side of the political spectrum).
Life goes on despite the chaos and sometimes an event like the World Cup, either distracts the masses from their problems and/or brings people together.

There is one plot hole that is mind-boggling,  but I guess it is importamt as far as the
rest of the story. Why didn’t the parents personally deliver Mauro to the Grandfather before driving off?
They just dropped him off in front of the building. Wouldn’t any parent make sure and verify that their child is in the custody of the designated recipient before driving off?

1 comment:

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