09 Sep BGN TIFF 2018 Review: ‘Diamantino’
Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotta) is the world’s most famous football, I mean soccer star. He is gorgeous, a magician on the field, and beloved around the world. After a traumatic incident, Diamantino loses his magic touch and has to rethink his entire future as his abusive twin sisters (Anabela and Margarida Moreira) plot against him for their own financial gain.
Directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt make sure to tell us right from the start that their feature Diamantino is not based on any actual people or events. But Cotta’s performance can’t be read as anything but a satirical poke at soccer hunk Cristiano Ronaldo, down to his tight yellow trunks and side-swept, side-shaved hairdo. It’s delightful.
But the events that spark Diamantino’s fall from grace are all too real. One day when out on his yacht with his family, Diamantino sees a raft overflowing with refugees. He isn’t the sharpest tool in the box and lives a sheltered life of exercise and football. He has no idea that war, political unrest, and climate change are prompting fellow human beings to risk the ocean rather than remain where they were. He’s never even heard the word “refugee” before.
As Diamantino and his father help the refugees on board and get them to safety, he finds out that the reason one woman looks so terribly sad is because her child died on the journey. Diamantino is haunted by this injection of reality into his limited life and can no longer summon his genius on the soccer field. He decides instead he will help refugees. By adopting one. Leaving the gate wide open for queer Secret Service agent Aisha (Cleo Tavares) to go undercover as a Mozambiquan adoptee to uncover Diamantino’s suspected money laundering.
From there we fall into a strange and oddly charming wormhole where sweet Diamantino is used for a number of nefarious purposes way outside his scope of knowledge. From Portugal’s own “Brexit”-style leave-EU movement to unsavory medical experiments, Diamantino is used as a pawn in an ugly game driven by his wicked sisters and the highest ministries of the Portuguese government.
Diamantino is like if Gregg Araki (Doom Generation, Kaboom) ever made a comedy and it had a baby with Zoolander. The satire is peak with this one. So is the bizarre and camp.
As the wacky plot twists and turns in unexpected ways, Diamantino’s social and cultural awakening isn’t only in the area of political and justice issues. So too does he begin exploring his sexuality—something his greedy sisters never gave him permission to do for fear he would have to share his fortune. He falls in love for the first time ever in his life. And it ends up being incredibly sweet, albeit in as unlikely a situation as you’d expect from this movie.
While Diamantino’s misplaced paternalism in adopting a refugee instead of looking at the deeper causes of the refugee crisis is telling, so too does his sisters’ participation in non-consensual human trafficking for purposes of medical experimentation mirror real-life events. The absurd presentation of these things in the movie does not detract from the larger social and cultural context. Yes, this is a strange kind of comedy. But proper gravity is given to the bigger implications of these occurrences throughout the film.
Diamantino also does an excellent job in exploring family violence through the physical, verbal, emotional, and economic abuse Diamantino’s sisters inflict on everyone in their orbit, and especially him. Like a child, Diamantino does not fully understand the depth of their depravity as they take advantage of him in multiple ways. There is a powerful moment where he acknowledges how terrible his sisters are, how he doesn’t like the way they hurt him, and also how he can’t help but love them because they are his only sisters and they take care of him. Exposing this classic abuse narrative here through the perspective of a physically strong, grown man who is so easily broken down by his sisters underlines the insidiousness of this kind of familial abuse.
However, the refugee crisis and its implications are the foundation of Diamantino’s narrative. The echoing of Trumpian slogans in Portuguese was chilling. “We will make Portugal great again! Close the borders! Build a wall!” But because this is a comedic satire, the wall that Portugal plans to build follows the country’s border with Spain, not the open ocean from where the refugees are arriving! Oy vey. It’s a pointed jab at the ridiculousness of what is happening in Europe and America at the moment.
Diamantino is a welcome piece of social justice comedy that situates important political issues in a new and relevant light. Using a famous soccer player as the vehicle for a tale about violent nationalism, greed, celebrity, as well as familial abuse and the refugee crisis is quite a brilliant move. Football/soccer fans, in particular, will get a kick out of Diamantino. Pun intended.
For more of our reviews from TIFF check out the following: