Creating a truly singular film in this current, oversaturated landscape is quite a feat, but directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt (Portuguese and American, respectively) have done just that with Diamantino, a candy-colored concoction of a political satire that on paper sounds quite frankly insane. But here goes anyway:
Miguel Gomes regular Carloto Cotta plays fictitious soccer star Diamantino Matamouros, Portugal’s national hero. The film promises, wink-wink, that it’s not based on real people but it’s impossible not to see the resemblance to another hunky Portuguese celebrity of the same sport: Cristiano Ronaldo. And while Cotta trained very hard leading up to shooting to get abs that resembled Ronaldo’s physique, Diamantino is no Ronaldo, and Diamantino is no sports movie. The protagonist’s career as a World Cup champion terminates early on in the film when he chokes during a make-or-break penalty kick, a shock that sends his father into a fatal cardiac arrest and the entire nation up in arms. He is then reborn as a meme star, his crying face cyber-reproduced for “TFW” jokes. Meanwhile, a newfound interest and sympathy for refugees—whom Diamantino ignorantly and endearingly calls “fugees”—leads him to adopt a little boy from Mozambique named Rahim (Cleo Tavares). Except that Rahim turns out to be a grown woman named Aisha, a secret agent sent to investigate Diamantino’s offshore accounts.
That’s the general gist, minus several bizarre plot twists, though it doesn’t accurately describe the experience of actually seeing this mad web of plots visualized on screen—especially with its mix of Super 16 footage and CGI. There are many beautifully grainy shots of sun-kissed landscapes and sun-kissed faces, but overall the film is a potpourri of TV broadcast, sleek action sequences, and something like a glitter bomb fantasia. When focused on the field, Diamantino departs from reality and sinks into a shroud of imagined cotton candy-pink clouds, running alongside giant, fluffy puppies. These hazy, oneiric sequences serve as the fantastical backbone for this trip of a film.
Abrantes and Schmidt risked overstuffing their conspiracy comedy, but Cotta’s performance as Diamantino is so startlingly pure that he declutters all the wild elements at play. He’s all wide, often watering eyes, and furrowed brows; his forehead creases are not a result of wearied life, but rather from his face pulling toward genuine expression of emotion. Not only is Diamantino not bright or sneaky enough to be illegally hiding away money, but he’s also too wholesome. When Aisha hacks into his computer looking for evidence of his money laundering, all she finds on his hard drive are photos of cute baby animals and memes of himself.
There’s some distinctly Trump-era commentary at play, also: Diamantino is duped into starring in a commercial that endorses building a wall—one that verbatim says, “We will make Portugal great again.” But Diamantino’s real heart is set on doing the exact opposite: helping refugees. The propaganda language is a little too on-the-nose—it’s as if the filmmakers forgot viewers are more astute than their leading man.
During a physical exam with Dr. Lamborghini (Carla Maciel), the woman behind a cloning plot to steal Diamantino’s athletic genius for nationalist purposes, it is revealed that Diamantino only uses 10% of normal people’s brain power. However, though lacking in cognitive ability, he is “full of compassion.” That Diamantino’s lifestyle completely defies expectations is the main comedic crux of the film. When Dr. Lamborghini asks how sexually active Diamantino is, the beddable, often shirtless star responds by saying sex “must be cool but seems difficult.” When asked about his sexual orientation, he says, “I like boys and girls. I like animals, too.” His answer could be interpreted as Diamantino not understanding the question, but in a movie already rife with politics, Abrantes and Schmidt do so well handling the underlying genderqueerness.
Later, while being experimented on, a hormonal defect leads Diamantino to grow woman-like breasts. All while this is happening, he strikes up a romance with Aisha. Unlike some of the more hit-over-the-head gags throughout the film, this relationship—incestuous but not really—is handled with care and nuance, and his changing body is not made into a spectacle when it comes to the attraction between the two stars. In a story involving straight-out-of-a-fairytale evil sisters, hormone-shifting clownfish genes, and massive canine hallucinations, the tender, unexpected love story—mined from Diamantino’s capacity for compassion—turns out to be the beating heart of this Frankensteinian genre film.