After starting with the one-two punch of the world premieres for The Predator and Halloween, it seems bizarre that the closing film of the Midnight Madness programme at TIFF was a film about a Portuguese soccer player; but in retrospect it was the absolute best way to end a bizarre set of films in an already bizarre year.
To even begin to describe what Diamantino is about is to risk sounding like you lost your mind: Imagine the world’s best soccer player. Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotto) is the best there is, and he looks exactly like Cristiano Ronaldo. Imagine him at the World Cup Final, the entire world watching as his concentration becomes such that the entire stadium disappears, leaving only him and a bunch of giant imaginary fluffy puppies on the field. At the very last minute of the match, he gets a penalty kick, and fails. With his career ruined, his life turned into a series of memes, Diamantino goes to exile, until he suddenly gets an epiphany when he sees a ship of refugees (he calls them “fugees”) off the Portuguese coast, and suddenly decides to adopt one of them.
From here, the film explores a plethora of ideas including the rise of fascism and nationalism in Europe, celebrity culture, gender fluidity, espionage, fake nuns, evil sisters, a scary conspiracy and a science-fiction twist.
Portuguese-born director Gabriel Abrantes and his US-born co-director Daniel Schmidt have created more than a parody of Portuguese soccer celebrities; they have crafted a bonkers and ambitious political allegory for the times we live in, one that is also incredibly funny and inventive.
At the center of it all we find Carloto Cotta as the titular Diamantino. Cotta is not only the heart, but the soul and face of the film. Besides looking surprisingly similar to Cristiano Ronaldo, Cotta perfectly sells the naïve and innately kind nature of Diamantino Matamouros. We clearly see that he is not the brightest guy in the room, but Cotta plays it 100% straight. He may have the brain of a small child, but there is an earnestness to the character that goes beyond just being dumb. When he decides that soccer isn’t that important in the face of the European refugee crisis, we see how much he cares about the cause.
Diamantino is full of visual gags that will keep you laughing as hard as it will make you want to keep close attention to the details in the background, looking for clues as to what can happen next. Diamantino lives in a mansion where his face is imprinted on everything from bed sheets, to pillows, to the pants he wears. One can only hope that the film results in some sweet merchandise.
According to the directors, the original idea for Diamantino was as simple as “rich guy wants to adopt a kid”, but the end result touches on so many different topics that seem over the top, yet are treated at such face value that you never second guess why a lesbian secret service agent is posing as a male refugee. If Boots Riley was able to take the idea of a film about telemarketing and turn it into a sci-fi blending pot for ideas about capitalism, race, and class, then Abrantes and Schmidt managed to make the perfect allegory for the craziness Europe is going through, all in one hell of an impressive feature debut that will leave you wanting to see anything else they have coming.