When a movie begins by telling us that what we are about to see is a work of fiction, bearing only a coincidental resemblance to any real-life “people, places, products or giant puppies”, we should expect it to be a different experience than usual. Diamantino indeed turned out to be the most unique cinematic experience I’ve had this year. This genre-bending film is at face value a silly comedy but if you look at the undertones, it consists of different themes that are more relevant than ever at present.
It is really difficult to provide a proper synopsis of the film because the scope of the film is so vast, but here’s an introduction to the story which you have to watch in full to experience this outrageously brave comedy. Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotta) is the world’s best footballer who plays for Portugal and is expected to bring home the World Cup for them. Diamantino is very affected by the refugee crisis when he discovers and rescues a raft full of refugees while riding his yacht. This is where Diamantino’s problems begin. His preoccupied mind results in him missing a crucial penalty that denies Portugal the World Cup, his father dies of a stroke and it is revealed that he’s getting spied on by the Portuguese Secret Service on charges of money laundering. What follows next is a very unique tale that touches Neo-fascism, Brexit, Trump, genetic modification and the refugee crisis.
Diamantino will come off as a film that should be a straight to video B-movie. It might also get construed as a film trying to make fun of the intellectual capabilities of a celebrity. But the film is far more than that. The film tries to show how celebrities, represented by Diamantino (who’s clearly parodying the Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo), may lead empty lives that we have no clue about. That although it seems like they have people throwing themselves at them, their financial success might not give their soul the satisfaction they want.
Co-director Gabriel Abrantes had said in an interview after the film’s premiere at Cannes that he thinks of cinema as a muddy field, a mixed culture and his thoughts are pretty evident in this work. Diamantino truly cannot be clubbed into a single genre, because it covers such a vast number of pressing issues. The film portrays the Portuguese government trying to leave the EU and the advertisements for it (which featured Diamantino) were exactly similar to those run in Britain by the pro-Leave campaign. It shows the Portuguese government asking to build a wall to protect the country from refugees, a reference to Donald Trump and his similar motives for the USA. The directors are clearly aware of the present world politics and show what’s wrong with it through the film.
Diamantino also has a very humane side to it. Through the scope of genetic modification, it tries to show us how anyone who supposedly doesn’t fit the societal definition of “normal”, finds it difficult to accept themselves for who they are. In Diamantino’s case, it is him developing breasts that he cannot come to terms with and in the real world, it’s millions of people who are scared to accept their sexuality or disabilities. The film shows us that there are thousands of Diamantinos in the world who are rich and famous, but at the end of the day have no emotional support, and like Diamantino probably have to depend on a kitten to find solace.
But the part of Diamantino that really got me was how the directors try to explore the secret to genius.
The directors said that a 1994 David Foster Wallace article was their inspiration for this part. We have often wondered while watching the likes of Lionel Messi or Roger Federer play whether their sheer control over the craft is just practice or if there’s a secret behind it. In the film, the Portuguese government also wonders the same, but unlike us, they go to extreme lengths to find out. But like Foster Wallace, the film (or rather the government and scientists in it) finds out that the secret to genius is probably nothing, as in a nothingness that surrounds a person to take him away from his current surroundings. Diamantino sees fluffy puppies running and playing with him whenever he’s on the field. This might be inspired by the famous Hernan Casciari article titled “Messi is a dog” which said that Messi is a dog in a game played by humans. A similar analogy has been used to portray Diamantino, a character in the same veins as Forrest Gump and Rain Man.
Diamantino will definitely be a festival hotcake due to its uniqueness and approach. The ideas in the film are not new. But the way they have been portrayed cinematically and in such sync with one another is what is really commendable about the work of the Portuguese-American duo of Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt. Not only do they experiment with the story, but they also experiment with the film’s aesthetic itself, which is often really random and wild. Carloto Cotta is a revelation as the titular character, with the likes of Cleo Tavares (who plays Aisha, a secret agent) and Anabela and Margarida Moreira (who play Diamantino’s twin sisters) providing excellent support to him throughout. The film’s cinematography, dialogues and production design are like the film itself, wild and extremely brave.
At one point in the film, Diamantino says that his father once told him “Love has reasons that even reasons can’t understand” which is exactly what I’m going to tell people when they ask me why I love this film.