Introducing Diamantino in the Critics’ Week strand of the Cannes Film Festival, Portuguese co-director Gabriel Abrantes cautioned that the film he made with American Daniel Schmidt is “overstuffed”. This was a fair warning. So much pops up visually, emotionally and narratively in this fantasy comedy drama about a football star duped into participating in an anti-EU campaign by his evil twin sisters that it takes some reflection to drill into what it’s all about.
Directors Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt
Manuela Moura Guedes
Yet even without devoting time to mulling over whether a lesbian secret service member posing as a male refugee could have saved Diamantino (Carloto Cotta) from fiendish medical experimentation, pleasures abound simply from experiencing this film, which deviates so far from Robert McKee-esque industry norms that we are frequently ambushed by comic details and visual asides. Although it defies conventional ideas of storytelling, it does so in a friendly way, signalling its benign intentions with adorable animals, namely giant Pekinese puppies and a black kitten named Mittens (who can fit his whole head in a glass of milk).
Cotta is the heart, soul, face and feet of the movie. With his ripped physique, spiky dark hair and diamante studs, he has deliberate aesthetic parallels with Portugal’s own Cristiano Ronaldo. Diamantino is presented as stupid but well-intentioned, a quality inspired by a slew of celebrities too naive to see the dangers of fame.
Amid many nods to social issues, which include the refugee crisis, Brexit and gender fluidity, celebrity culture is the most consistent target. One gleeful running gag is the line of Diamantino merchandise, branded with a twinkling diamond. Art directors Cypress Cook and Bruno Duarte must have had a blast creating duvet covers and pillow cases emblazoned with Cotta in his football kit, and indeed this gag has travelled beyond the film, with Screen International apparently running spoof adverts for Diamantino pants.
There was a steady shuffle of people leaving the screening, unable to endure so much digressive light-heartedness at a serious arthouse film festival. It’s perhaps easy to miss the unifying principle, even though it hides in plain sight. Diamantino is a love story. Immense craft has gone into relentlessly mocking its dumb hunk of a lead character while flooding each of the 90 minutes with pure affection. Guided by Cotta – who gives a sincere emotional performances in every situation, whether crying over the plight of ‘fugees’ (refugees), looking after his adopted ‘son’ or experiencing new adult feelings of betrayal – the film is a magical testimony to the transformative power of goodness. Unlike films such as Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo where whimsy is layered upon whimsy in place of a centre of gravity, Dimantino pulls off a rare and delightful feat. It is imaginatively strange, but has a heart big enough to make sense of the insensible.