This debut feature by directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt uses humour, a mix of genres and an insane plot full of topical nods at issues like the refugee crisis and right-wing propaganda. The result is a surprisingly entertaining film which also manages to comment on subjects like gender fluidity and the nature of celebrity, desire and love.
Diamantino unfolds as a story told by its eponymous hero (Carloto Cotta), the world’s foremost soccer star who also happens to look suspiciously like Cristiano Ronaldo, as if recalling the events of the film from a distant point in the future. He begins by describing his close bond with his father who taught him how to play the game and of his father’s fondness for beautiful church ceilings and how they made him look up at them.
Simultaneously, a drone looks down into another place of faith, a football stadium where among deafening cheers Portugal plays a game and Diamantino gears up to take a shot while being surrounded by giant, fluffy puppies that roll around in a candy floss-filled environment. The puppies are the player’s magic charm and it is when he stops seeing them in the field that his troubles begin.
Diamantino, the film informs, has the cognitive abilities of a child, but his heart is full of love and good intentions and following both career and personal tragedies, and already affected by the plight of refugees who are forced to flee their own country, he decides to adopt one to shower all his love on. It is at this point that another narrative element joins in the form of Aisha (Cleo Tavares), a lesbian government agent who wishes to investigate the football star’s finances by absurdly posing as a refugee boy and Diamantino’s newly-adopted son. Also involved in this increasingly bizarre and complex story are two evil twin sisters, an agent dressed as a nun with a bunny headpiece, Diamantino’s face on bedspreads and an anti-European Union subplot which involves cloning and scientific experiments to find the source of the athlete’s genius.
Apart from its political relevance and directness, and a general non-serious tone which while being aware of the inanity is never cruel towards it, what charms in the film is the notion of innocence and purity that define its central character making him both lovable and deserving of sympathy. The idea is also present in the eventual relationship that grows between Diamantino and Aisha, free as it is from all labels and definitions. Despite his burnished physique and skills on the field, Diamantino remains child-like and helpless, and in a welcome reversal of roles, needs Aisha to rescue him from the troubles that he unwittingly gets into.