An exploration in absurdist comedy and the symptoms of modern-day, “Diamantino,” directed by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, has all the anti-climactic plot mess of a neo-noir but is doused in the lighthearted irony of millennial meme culture.
The film begins in the glowing lights of a stadium where celebrity soccer player Diamantino (Carloto Cotta) conjures a hallucination of giant “fluffy puppies” as he calls them, that prance about in a pink fog settled over the field. They are something of cerebral guides, leading him to athletic success.
Following the game, Diamantino sits on a boat where he is the unsuspecting victim of a drone surveillance operation that suspects him of money laundering at the same time he is a witness to a refugee family afloat at sea. Shocked, Diamantino asks for explanation. His narration, which carries throughout the film, admits to the audience that he knows nothing outside of soccer. This is our first hint that Diamantino has the mental capacity of a preteen.
This new exposure to the refugee crisis is a harsh slap from reality. So much so that it causes him to miss a penalty kick in the World Cup, losing the game for Portugal. Simultaneously his father dies of an unknown cause. This swift inciting incident conveniently ends Diamantino’s soccer career and leaves him vulnerable to the exploitative schemes of his twin sisters (Anabella and Margarida Moreira).
Out of desperate guilt, Diamantino adopts what he believes is a refugee, but is actually an undercover lesbian Secret Service member, Aisha (Cleo Tavares) sent to further investigate him. She discovers that Diamantino’s sisters are grooming him as the face of a nationalist propaganda campaign aimed at getting Portugal to leave the European Union, while also subjecting him to genetic experiments loosely tied to the same goal.
It would be more confusing if it weren’t all told so straight with no expectation for explanation. Instead the audience is asked to accept and laugh along with the absurdity, allowing the film to splay out a jumbled plot onto a bed of meme-drenched post-modernity.
The sensibilities of this film would have been lost without Cotta who plays the simpleminded Diamantino with a straight face and a lived-in performance. Combining the stiff, awkward movements of a child with a bewildered gaze, Cotta provides much of the comedic charm this movie relies on.
Although shot on 16 mm film, the cinematography falls flat. Nearly every shot is lazily handheld, at times allowing characters to almost entirely dip out of frame. Perhaps intending to add a neo-realistic feel in juxtoposition to the overt surrealism of the story and performances, it still seems to undercut the overall character of the film.
Overall, the film is entertaining simply because there is so much nonsensical material, but it lacks potency to be the nutty, modern-day commentary it seems to want to be.
Regardless, it’s fun to see something so fresh in content and sensibility that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s that attitude that pulls off the film and makes its lack of craft more forgiving. The goofy ideas and Cotta’s performance make it worth the watch.
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