“The Year My Parents Went on Vacation”: Brazil’s Cinema Novo Tradition

This year’s “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation,” directed by Cao Hamburger, is the kind of beautifully orchestrated glimpse into the wildly complex politics of Brazil born out of the country’s traditional Cinema Nôvo, or “New Cinema,” of the 1950s and 60s.

These Brazilian Cinema Nôvo directors and producers introduced a cutting edge approach that used the camera to lay bare the grave issues surrounding them. Cinema Nôvo is inspired by Italian neo-realism and the French New Wave, using classic European methods on a low budget to depict the raw and graphic scenes of poverty, racism, and exploitation.

The phrase, “Uma câmera na mão e uma idéia na cabeça” (“a camera in the hand and an idea in the head”) is often used to encapsulate the progressive ideology that the movement embraces. The films range from gritty documentary realism to highly stylized and theatrical allegory based around the complicated social inequities in Brazil.

“The Year My Parents Went on Vacation,” while coming years after the historical end of Cinema Nôvo, clearly fits within its ideology. It’s a pseudo black comedy and coming of age saga about a boy abandoned by his fleeing parents during the Brazilian military regime, and it has sold to nearly 30 countries since its world premiere at last year’s Berlin Film Fest. The film displays Hamburger’s incredible talent in exploiting stereotypes and prejudices while maintaining the true innocence and raw honesty common in many Cinema Nôvo films.

Glauber Rocha, the most influential director behind the Cinema Nôvo movement, explains that at its core, “Cinema Nôvo [stands] with the Brazilian utopia. Whether it is ugly, irregular, dirty, confusing and chaotic, it is, on the other hand, beautiful, shining and revolutionary.”

Cinema Nôvo may have reached its height in the 1950s and 60s, but even under military control from 1964 to 1985, progressive filmmakers continued to push limits and expose the harsh realities of their nation’s underbelly.

“How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman” from 1971 is a great example of a Brazilian director creating a fascinating film with striking hidden messages. The movie details the alleged cannibalistic practices of the—now extinct—indigenous Tupinamba warrior tribe against the French and Portuguese colonizers. It is an elaborate political critique of the then current regime and another relentless effort by Brazilian filmmakers to stand up against an unfair establishment.

Most Americans didn’t take notice of Brazil’s innovative blend of politics and film until two 2002 breakthroughs: Emmy Award-winning documentary “Bus 174” and Oscar-nominated “City of God.” Now, “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” continues in the tradition of these courageous films that, while often painful to watch, prove the power of film to incite change and spread awareness among those willing to open their eyes long enough to realize it.

To learn more about Reel Progress, the progressive film series sponsored by the Center for American Progress, please visit www.reelprogress.org.