Growing Pains

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Brazilian-Jewish Backdrop Propels Decent Coming-of-Age Story

The devil is in the details. Brazilian director Cao Hamburger’s “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation”—the prestigious opening night film of the Washington Jewish Film Festival in 2007—has a story that’s good enough but unremarkable. The film succeeds though because the somewhat familiar coming-of-age story takes place in a well-crafted, exotic milieu that adds flavor to the proceedings.

In 1970, a military dictatorship has taken over control of Brazil, stomping out the resistance—and resisters. So a leftist activist husband-and-wife team decides it’s time to go on the run in the best interests of their safety. But the underground is no place for a 12-year-old boy, so they send their son Mauro (Michel Joelsas) to live with his paternal grandfather. The couple tells Mauro they’re going on vacation and will be back for him.

But when Mauro arrives, nobody’s home. It turns out that Mauro’s grandfather has just died of a heart attack. Mauro goes to the funeral and is “adopted” by the Yiddish-speaking Jewish community. His grandfather’s neighbor Shlomo (Germano Haiut), a lifelong bachelor, reluctantly takes Mauro in while trying to find his parents. At the same time, the World Cup is taking place and to Mauro’s delight, the multiethnic neighborhood is as crazed about soccer as he is, helping him make plenty of friends. Still, he misses his parents dearly, waiting by the phone for them to call.

Joelsas does a fine job in his first professional role, and he more than holds his own. In fact, he’s usually stealing the scene from his costars. Nevertheless, the rest of the ensemble cast also delivers solid performances. But in the end, the real draw here is an intricately crafted world mixing Brazilian and Jewish backdrops, with a little dictatorship, soccer and adolescent growing pains thrown in.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias) (Portuguese, Yiddish and Hebrew with subtitles; 105 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema

4 out of 5 stars

‘Flawless’: Not Quite

“Flawless” isn’t quite flawless, ahem. It’s a decent enough flick, but it feels like it’s kind of going through the motions and seems to lack soul, preventing it from being greater. British director Michael Radford (“Il Postino,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “White Mischief”) has done better, but “Flawless” still passes for enjoyable entertainment.

In 1960, American Laura Quinn (Demi Moore), who studied at Oxford, is the only woman executive at London Diamond, where she’s hit the glass ceiling quite a few times, having been passed over for promotion repeatedly in favor of less capable men.

Despite stellar work performance, she hears from the rumor-mill that she will be fired. Actually, the tidbit of information comes from Mr. Hobbs (cockney-speaking Michael Caine, who played Moore’s father in 1984’s “Blame It on Rio”), a friendly janitor who overhears top-level executive discussions while he’s cleaning.

As revenge, Hobbs pitches to her a plan for a jewel heist, for which he needs her help because she has a chance to access the vault. After getting proof that she will indeed be terminated, Quinn agrees to help Hobbs. The heart of the film is the spirited interaction between the two leads: Caine is particularly enjoyable to watch as an everyday man with a plan, while Moore shows vulnerability and nervousness beneath her tough business veneer.

“Flawless” bills itself as a caper film, but the actual machinations of the heist are pretty simple. They are thereby not so intriguing for an audience that might expect a bit more in terms of thrills, like in Caine’s old caper films. Similarly, the investigation’s progress seems to happen largely off screen, making it feel kind of lackluster. And nobody seems to be having much fun, either—aside from a couple of grins by Caine every now and then.

Flawless (English; 108 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema

3.5 out of 5 stars

‘Young@Heart’: Senior Showtime

The engrossing documentary “Young@Heart” is an uplifting look at a group of senior citizens who sing rock songs in concert halls. What’s so special? For one thing, the Young@Heart chorus members take their song assignments very seriously, even if they hadn’t ever heard of the songs before being introduced to them. But they practice often—at home and together—to get the numbers good enough for show time.

Plus, at their ages—70s, 80s and 90s—it can be quite an ordeal just to stay healthy and alive, let alone sing. And unfortunately health problems do start to play a part as the drama unfolds.

The documentary, now released in a theatrical version, was originally made for television by director Stephen Walker and producer Sally George. The British husband-and-wife team saw a performance of the Massachusetts-based Young at Heart Chorus in London and were quickly intrigued.

“Every song they sang had some kind of resonance. I had always been interested in doing a film about old age,” Walker explained. “When [chorus member] Eileen Hall started singing, or rather yelling, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by the Clash—and the entire audience shouted out ‘Stay!’—we started to think there was potentially something really fascinating here.”

But chorus director Bob Cilman was initially resistant to the idea of a documentary (a previous one had been disappointing). Nevertheless, George and Walker won him over by showing him their past work, and the resulting film has won over its fair share of critics.

In fact, “Young@Heart” was chosen as Best Documentary by “Time Out” and “The Radio Times,” in addition to winning the Rose D’Or Festival Best of 2007 Special Prize, the Golden Rose for Best Art Documentary, and the Audience Award for the Best International Feature at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival.

Young@Heart (English; 108 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema

4 out of 5 stars

Repertory Notes

Please see International FilmClips for detailed listings available at press time.

Filmfest DC The 22nd Washington, DC International Film Festival returns from April 24 to May 4. Films from 30 countries cover cultures, politics and music. (202) 628-FILM, www.filmfestdc.org

Anime and Korean Films The annual Cherry Blossom Anime Marathon of four films takes place on April 5. The Korean Film Festival DC 2008 runs April 4 to June 12 in collaboration with the University of Maryland, the Korea Foundation, the Korean Film Council and the U.S.-Korea Business Council. (202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp

Teshigahara and Bergman The Korean Film Festival DC 2008 also takes place at AFI Silver Theatre. In addition, AFI is featuring “Four Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara” (April 12-May 4), and the series “Ingmar Bergman Remembered, Part II” continues the tribute to the late Swedish psychological auteur (through May 15). (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/Silver

Ophuls and Eustache At the National Gallery of Art, “Max Ophuls in Hollywood” looks at the director’s work made in California. German-born, French-bred, Austrian-influenced Max Ophuls also lived in Italy, Holland, Switzerland and the Soviet Union. “This sense of ‘exile’ made the screen his only home,” wrote one historian.”

“Jean Eustache: Film as Life, Life as Film” runs April 5 to 13. Often self-described as an archivist or ethnographer, Jean Eustache once said: “I simply want to show that the cinema has a direct influence on life, just as literature does.” Screenings also take place at La Maison Française (April 14-21). (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film www.la-maison-francaise.org/cinema.htm

‘The Promised Land’ The Goethe-Institut presents the topic “Coming to America - Hopes and Challenges of a ‘Promised Land’” to coincide with two nationwide events: the spring U.S. release of the TV series “Germans in America” and the commemoration of 400 years of European settlement in Jamestown, Va. (202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/washington

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999