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A good Year: Director Cao Hamburger on the set of The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (Photo: City Lights Pictures)

By S.T. VanAirsdale

He's got the meatiest name in world cinema, and his latest film, The Year My Parents Went On Vacation (opening Friday in New York), outlasted formidable competition like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Persepolis in this year's Foreign Language Oscar race. But Cao Hamburger's biggest accomplishment might be efficiently weaving politics, the World Cup and coming-of-age drama into the story of Mauro (Michel Joelsas), a Sao Paulo adolescent whose left-wing radical parents leave him at his grandfather's place on their way to enact revolution. Alas, Mauro's grandfather just had a heart attack, leaving the boy to fend for himself in a Jewish community full of strangers. The awakening that follows might not shatter any Earth but hardly disappoints as a vibrant social snapshot of its era.

Hamburger sat down with The Reeler to talk Vacation, Oscar hype and Brazil's elusive "national cinema."

THE REELER: There are a lot of themes going on here -- what inspired you to pull all of these off in one film?

CAO HAMBURGER: Brazil has an expression that doesn't translate in English -- it basically means "soup of ideas." But I was in England in 2001 when the first ideas came up, and I was working alone in a kind of exile -- my family wasn't there. I became very interested in the cultural differences between Brazil and England, and I found myself looking back to my roots. The guys who drove me in England at that time all knew the Brazilian team from 1970. But everyone was more mixed where I come from, so I started to take some notes and thought it was a good starting point to make a movie. It wasn't easy from this soup to make one story, but that's how everything starts. I didn't want to lose these characters.

R: Which came first: The idea of a boy? Politics? The World Cup?

The first thing was to make a movie about this period in our lives between childhood and adulthood. I thought I could do it in the era of my childhood, and I thought I could use elements of my life -- the game, the dictatorship and where I was at that age.

R: You've also taken pains to say this isn't autobiographical. Where was the break?

CH: There are elements; my parents went on vacation. I have a mixed background; my father is Jewish, my mother is Italian Catholic. I was a goalkeeper -- a very good goalkeeper, in fact. But I never lived in that neighborhood. My writing partner was born and raised in that neighborhood, and he was around my age, so we had a mix of experiences to bring to a fiction film.

R: Vacation was Brazil's submission to the Academy Awards, and it even got shortlisted. How much stock do you put in the Oscars and awards season in general?

CH: We'd love to be nominated, but it's not the most important thing in the world. It's mostly good for the film as we get ready to release it, and it's good for the Brazilian film industry. And it's been like this all over the world -- despite ages or cultures. That's what we wanted for it.

R: Other Brazilian filmmakers I've spoken with have mentioned how Brazil's film industry -- or "national cinema," as they've put it -- lacks identity and is much more fractured than others in South America.

I agree, and I think it's as characteristic of our culture as it is of our cinema. But really, maybe it's not good or bad. That's just our cinema, and that's how it is. You can't put a stamp on it: "This is a Brazilian film." I think that's good, actually.

R: Do you take an active role in working with younger filmmakers to develop that cinema?

CH: I like to stay close to them, but on the other hand, I don't consider myself an experienced filmmaker. I've done a lot of shorts and television but only two features. I actually think the younger filmmakers should be pushing us.

Posted at February 14, 2008 1:35 PM

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