This highly-original film has moments to savour, but its hammy execution doesn’t make for a satisfying watch.
Dir. Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt
2018 | Portugal | Drama/Comedy/Fantasy | 96 mins | 2.35: 1 | Portuguese
R21 for some homosexual content
Cast: Carloto Cotta, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Margarida Moreira, Carla Maciel
Plot: Diamantino, the world’s premiere soccer star, loses his special touch and ends his career in disgrace. Searching for a new purpose, the international icon sets on a delirious odyssey where he confronts neo-fascism, the refugee crisis, genetic modification, and the hunt for the source of genius.
Awards: Won Critics’ Week Grand Prize & Palm Dog – Jury Prize, and Nom. for Queer Palm (Cannes)
International Sales: Charades
Subject Matter: Moderate/Strange
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
A winner of the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Diamantino is one of the more eccentric films to hit the Croisette in recent years. Made by the incredibly prolific short film writer-director duo, Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, whose first feature, Palaces of Pity (2011), competed for the Venice Horizons Award, Diamantino is a highly-original film with a vision. While it has adequate execution to match its peculiar ambition, I feel that there is something hammy about the whole experience.
Perhaps I am less impressed than the majority of critics who have been quite rightly dazzled by its seemingly potent concoction of, for instance, the surreal with realism, or current politics with zany sci-fi-ish elements, all of which are contained in a single subject: a fictional Portuguese football player with the world at its feet.
Two sports essays by David Foster Wallace – “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” and “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” – served as inspiration for the film, to delve into the psychology and personality of a sport superstar.
It is the World Cup Final, and Portugal face Sweden in a match that will certainly make the headlines. The titular character (played by Carloto Cotta, whose breakthrough performance was for Miguel Gomes’ brilliant Tabu (2012)), in a moment that could affirm his status as a true legend of the game or be called a national disgrace, comes to terms with what he has done on the pitch, and decides to chart a new path, with his overbearing and uncouth twin sisters biting on his tail.
At his ingenious prime, football becomes an art and a dream state—in fact, some of the film’s most outrageous scenes involve giant puppies scurrying around on the field in slow-mo with accompanying pink candy floss. When reality hits, however, such as his witnessing of refugees floating on a nearby boat, his mature stance translating as a desire to adopt a refugee kid, begins to mask his childish personality.
Diamantino is as much about a ‘boy-man’ becoming a ‘man’ (inverted commas intended to reflect the outlandish plotting and characterisation) as it is about the politics of our time—where we must gain at the expense of the weak, become blindly nationalistic, and worse, xenophobic.
As much as I admire the filmmakers’ audacity for trying to tie disparate elements together, like a wizard stirring a pot of who-knows-what, I didn’t quite enjoy the movie that much, least of all, to even try liking it. It has moments to savour though.