Cao Hamburger: "We Connect and Then We Disconnect"

By Francine Taylor

Coa HamburgerWriter and director Cao Hamburger's The Year My Parents Went on Vacation blends the unstable politics of Brazil in 1970 with the unbridled enthusiasm of Brazilians towards a third attempt at winning the World Cup in soccer. The young lead character of the film, Mauro (Michel Joelsas), finds himself somewhat abandoned by his left-leaning parents while they are purportedly "on vacation," i.e., hiding from the forces of a military dictatorship. Mauro is to be left in the care of his grandfather, but it isn't until his parents have already driven off that he discovers that his grandfather has died. So Mauro finds himself living instead with an older neighbor, Shlomo, played by Germano Haiut, in a predominantly Jewish community, and having to adjust to a completely new way of life. Mauro's main comfort is his interest in and obsession with soccer; he holds onto the thought that his parents will drive back to pick him up in their Volkswagen bug in time to watch the World Cup with him.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation is the second feature film for Hamburger, following the award-winning Ratimbum Castle, The Film. Year was selected for the Berlin International Film Festival's competition lineup in 2007 and is the recipient of the Rio International Film Festival Audience Award and the Sao Paulo Association of Art Critics Award for Best Screenplay.

I noticed in your bio that you've done some Brazilian television for HBO?

Yeah, I did. I did a mini-series called Filhos do Carnaval and it was nominated for best drama series in 2006 for the International Emmy Awards.

Nice. Congratulations!

Thank you. Yes, and we are doing now the second season of that.

So you're still involved?


The Year My Parents Went on Vacation


I was curious as to what attracted you to this particular project, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation. What made you want to direct this?

It is sort of a funny story, actually. I was living in London at the time when I first got the idea for the project. I was there living alone and I was in that kind of situation...

You were feeling a little like you didn't fit in?

[Laughs] A lot... And I was very curious about this kind of feeling, of not knowing much about my surroundings and curious to find out... A different point of view.

Kind of like in the film Lost in Translation? How does this all work? How do I fit in here?

Yeah, and thinking about the differences between my country and the culture differences. And it also started me thinking about my roots...

That's something else I was going to ask. Are you Brazilian? Did you grow up in Brazil?

Yeah. My mother is from a German Jewish family - they arrived in Brazil before the war.

Yet being raised in Brazil in this mixture of cultures?

Have you heard about our traditional Samba schools?

In Brazil?

When we want to say that we live in a mixed culture, we say "the crazy Samba school." One Easter Sunday I went to my grandmother's house and had a traditional Catholic feast for Easter with Italian food. And then in the afternoon, I went to my Jewish grandmother and we had a Jewish food. And at that time I was researching in the Samba school and at night I went to the Samba school class, very Brazilian. This is how we define Brazil: Catholics that have Jewish roots, Germans who have the African culture... It's an incredible melting pot.

I've been somewhat aware of the mix of cultures, but not until I saw the film did I really get just how mixed it is. Also, it seems that from appearances that people are used to the mix. Do you find that there are places in Brazil, or cities where people do want to segregate and be separate, or is it a mix and simply defined as a mix?

I think we have some places where most of the Jewish people live, but not strictly segregated. It's not common to think much about race or culture. Everything becomes Samba - "Come on in!" We don't think of a person as African or Indian or... we don't talk about this.

So you're Brazilian.


And being in London kind of inspired you a little bit? Maybe in Brazil you were used to the mix, but when you became a foreigner...

In London, you have differences in culture - "That one is English, that one is American, that one is Indian." In Brazil, you don't think about it. The other point is that the guys who drove me in London - all of them were familiar with the soccer teams. They knew every player.

It had a mythology to it?

It was huge - it made a mark. And that's how the project started. I was there and I started to think about my roots.

You wrote the script?

Yes, and I decided to have a co-writer. I went to Brazil to find one. I was looking for a guy who was born and raised in that neighborhood.

Someone who was familiar with it?

Yes. Claudio Galperin. He brought to the film his stories and his memories, the melting pot, with a lot of ideas.

So you had a melting pot of ideas along with the melting pot you were describing.

Yes, it was my point of view, my experience, and his point of view, his experience, plus the creativity. And I wanted to talk about Brazil - how we grow up, so I had at that time a list of issues, themes... So it really became a huge "pot" of ideas.

Because the film does involve soccer and the politics of that time, are you the age of the character in the film? Were you about that age in 1970?

I was eight years old at the time.

Did you have some impressions of the politics of that time? What were your impressions as a child?

Sure. My parents "went on vacation" when I was a child.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation


So this is autobiographical.

Not really, though actually when my parents got arrested, I went to my grandmother's house.

But the part with the Jewish culture, that you kind of created?


How did you feel when your parents were gone? Worried? What was your emotional sense of it? Confused?

Not confused. You know something is wrong. You don't know exactly what is happening, but you know something is wrong.

How long did your parents go on vacation?

Not very long. My mother was gone for two weeks and my father was gone for three weeks.

But for the film, you thought of it being a longer period of time to develop these relationships?

I don't consider this project autobiographical. From the very beginning, I decided against that.

Are you inherently a political person? Are you interested in politics and is that something that runs through your life?

I don't like politics.

You're not even a little interested?

I hate it. [Laughs] I read about it and I always know what has happened. I participate in the elections.

But you're not heavily involved.


Though I obviously didn't live in Brazil in the 1970s, it seemed to me that you achieved a lot of the natural feel and authenticity with the houses and locations, the neighborhood. Did you shoot it all on location?


Some of the apartments looked small. Was that difficult setting up?

We were very lucky because we found a building and it was empty. So we were able to do whatever we needed.

Yet it did seem like the building looked like that era - the style, architecture like that time period.

It was a gift to find it. We spent more than three or four months looking for a location.

And this wasn't a very high budget movie?

Not for here in the US. But for Brazilian standards, a medium budget.


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