Photo: Kino Lorber
Before We Vanish by Joe Biglin Film

Diamantino | Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt

June 13, 2019

Diamantino, the brainchild of directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, comes out guns-a’-blazin’, with frenetic, intertwining, impossible-to-link story threads listed-out via voice-over and referencing (in the manner that a press kit might) subjects including “giant puppies,” “the refugee crisis,” and “neofascism.” Diamantino Matamorous (Carloto Cotta) is introduced as the “world’s most famous” soccer star, and thus the opening shots creep around a CGI-rendered Earth, as Cotta breathlessly intones a self-important monologue rife for parody. The camera works its way down through the atmosphere until the giant net of a soccer stadium comes into view — then, eventually, Diamantino himself, who reveals that his secret to ‘being the best’ has been to imagine the field filled with giant puppies instead of players. And there it is, what we’ve waited six long minutes to arrive at: some mildly humorous, random-ass punchline. That voiceover gimmick wasn’t just for the opening, either — it extends through the entire 96-minute runtime. Diamantino, as a character, is a fop — very sincere, but extremely stupid and childish. The film’s structure runs this naif through various sketches that are tied together with the loosest of threads: his sisters use him for an evil plot involving Portuguese nationalists’ efforts to clone his likeness, and make an unstoppable soccer team, while also making him a puppet PR representative for the cause of Portugal leaving the EU.

This can all sound like fun on paper (maybe in a press kit!), but these ridiculous story ideas (here’s another: a Portuguese government operative (Cleo Tavares) disguises herself as a Mozambican refugee boy to spy on Diamantino’s estate) get tiring, and generally don’t even try to complicate or challenge expectations. Diamantino is the emotional fulcrum but he remains an idiot throughout; his ignorance is assumed comedic, his mere presence in a scene the joke. Cotta is clearly the highlight here, his commitment to the ruse making the film slightly bearable. And yet, the filmmakers continually handicap the actor with lifeless monologuing, which just reiterates events we’ve already seen. The dramatic irony of a character being unaware of the zany plots occurring around him loses its punch quickly. And for all the nuances brought to these specific, wacky ideas, there’s little of that imagination found in Abrantes’ and Schmidt’s direction. The strange sexual politics of a bisexual woman disguised as a boy sharing a mansion with a hot-yet-dimwitted adopted father, for example, are rife with possibility. But, like the worst Sundance-film fodder, literally nothing beyond the paint-by-numbers “she investigates and he doesn’t know” plot reoccurs until the shoehorned resolution — they fall in love. Despite the good intentions of the film, and the hot-button talking points it brings up, Diamantino never seems to have much to say.

Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 5.