Everyone in the world loves football—or, as we Americans lamentably call it, soccer—and everyone in the world loves Portuguese player Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotta), an athlete of such status, notoriety and power that he might as well be a modern deity. Diamantino, or, as his friends call him, “Tino,” is such a virtuoso on the field that everyone, a few in particular, wants to know what makes him such a genius player. (It’s imaginary giant fluffy puppies. No, I’m not joking.) With his athletic skill and international ubiquity, he is, shall we say, a vision of modern Portugal. Or he could be.
The timing of the release of Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino is fairly fortuitous, as it comes just after another intentionally beloved, very camp and very queer competition, a sporting event (of sorts) that is also not dissimilarly positioned as political when it is, in fact, one of the most political events of the year next to the World Cup: the Eurovision Song Contest. With 50 countries eligible and 26 competing in the finale, every country sends a representative in the hopes of taking home the title of best (pop) song in the world. (Also, unofficially, which countries are more shameless.) ABBA won, back in the day! And so did Céline Dion, though she was there representing Switzerland, not Canada (who does not compete) or France. And like all events that have stultifyingly sentimental ideas of global unity (“Eurovision brings people together!!”) and apoliticality, they are nothing if not propaganda machines, even if latently so. This year’s contest took place in Tel Aviv, home of last year’s winner Netta, a decision which both tracked for Eurovision’s noncommittal attitude regarding its own international affairs and raised controversy concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, leading some to boycott the telecast. (Iceland’s representing and bondage-gear-sporting band Hatari, who performed a song called “Hate Will Prevail,” snuck in some Palestinian flags, as did Madonna in her performance; Eurovision issued an official statement.) The point is, events in which people implicitly or explicitly present themselves as a kind of synecdoche for a nation is political, and Diamantino is a comedy about when someone is that body of politics and doesn’t really understand it.
There is no secret to Diamantino’s performance; he’s a beautiful, brainless jock, whose heart would be on his sleeve if he had a shirt on long enough to justify the metaphor. Also, if he could find said sleeve. But just because he’s kind of a moron doesn’t mean he’s not lovable. Rather, Cotta gives Diamantino a sweet honesty, a preciousness which is carefully etched on his occasionally vacant, bemused expressions. He’s childlike, celibate, he eats junk food all the time and yet, unbeknownst to even him, he has an immense amount of power. The actor’s sensitivity never allows the film to stray into condescending to Diamantino. Instead, Diamantino bears a wholehearted affection for its main character, and Cotta’s blazing eyes, smoldering sex appeal and goofy antics make him feel like the love child of Adriano Tardiolo in Happy as Lazzaro, Paul Hamy in The Ornithologist and Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading. The cult of celebrity he experiences both firsthand (he gets meme’d, hilariously) and by proxy (he has pillows and bedsheets with his face and body) is beyond his control, which is why he’s the perfect specimen to use for an explicitly political agenda by Portuguese nationalists who want to leave the EU.
The sweetness of the film finds an amusing complement in its strange eroticism, itself part of the queerness of its genre mixing. It’s part study of masculinity as politic, part examination of the politics of sporting events, part espionage thriller, part sci-fi, part family comedy. It coheres gently, its spy elements (featuring Cleo Tavares as a queer spy who masquerades as a boy so that she can be adopted by Diamantino, who pitties refugees, as part of her mission to investigate money laundering activity traced to his home, where he lives with his sisters in the wake of his father’s death) as integral to its moving parts as its sportsmanship and its humor about how fractured and calculated his public persona really is. The Diamantino that everyone knows is a facsimile of sorts, but just malleable enough to be used as propaganda.
The film has a slyly satirical edge, not merely for the way that Diamantino is repurposed for a nationalist cause, but for its subtle sympathy and skepticism of the role that celebrities play in public political discourse. That a genuine, but deeply ignorant understanding of the world’s refugee crisis catalyzes in Diamantino a new meaning to life is a clever critique of the well-meaning, but occasionally oblivious, way in which famous people add social justice causes to their resume, blurring the line between praxis and PR.
Shot with saturated oranges and pinks by Charles Ackley Anderson, deftly vacillating between fantasy and reality, Diamantino’s greatest strength is that it understands the best examples of satire always come true. It’s not hard to imagine a future in which a brainless famous person is manipulated into becoming the poster child for a nationalist movement; after all, there are enough famous people who do that of their own volition.
Director: Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt
Writers: Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt
Starring: Carloto Cotta, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Margarida Moreira, Joana Barrios
Release Date: May 24, 2017