Diamantino is the greatest soccer player in the world; an unstoppable force seemingly destined to lead the Portuguese national team to World Cup glory. Blessed with preternatural footie powers, he can do almost anything on the pitch, including making successful penalty kicks 95% of the time.
As we learn in Diamantino (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, June 28), he’s also an exception-proves-the-rule man-child whose intellectual shortcomings confirm the (long debunked) ten percent of the brain myth, a target of a money laundering investigation, the unwitting associate of a shadowy political organization attempting to take Portugal out of the European Union, and friend to a herd of giant fluffy puppies.
No, really: every time Diamantino (Carloto Cotta) prepares to take a shot, a dozen doggies accompany him atop a cotton candy pink cloud towards the opposing team’s goal. Their initial appearance is your first warning that this is going to be anything but a routine feature film.
Written and directed by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, Diamantino instead becomes a semi-surreal tale of an impossibly talented man who is also completely unable to comprehend (or live in) reality – even when it’s staring him square in the face. Coddled since childhood by his proud football agent papa (Chico Chapas), Diamantino has been cocooned in a protective bubble along with his two wicked twin sisters, Sonia and Natasha (Anabela and Margarida Moreira).
If you thought Cinderella’s siblings were rotten, you’ll be astonished by the cold-blooded villainy displayed by Diamantino’s. Willing to do absolutely anything to maintain the comfortable lifestyle their famous brother has given them, the sisters have sold his genes to a laboratory run by Dr. Lamborghini (Carla Maciel), a slightly mad scientist who has plans to clone him using, erm, clownfish DNA.
There are sub-plots aplenty. While Diamantino is being spied upon by the Secret Service – who think he’s maintaining some illegal offshore banking accounts – reactionary political elements are using him in a nationalist effort to ‘make Portugal great again’. Left vulnerable after missing a critical goal, the footballer opens heart and home to a teenage refugee from Africa who is actually a government spy (Cleo Tavares), and as Lamborghini’s experiments take hold his body begins to display some unusual outward changes.
While Abrantes and Schmidt work hard to make this cinematic stew an edible one, their tone is sometimes off, leaving their film somewhere between old-fashioned midnight movie and slightly fractured fairy tale. Diamantino is neither edgy nor weird enough to qualify as the former, while its protagonist’s rudimentary emotional intelligence prevents us from fully investing in his struggles as we might with Cinderella’s: like The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Rocky Horror, Diamantino is a chiseled piece of beefcake it’s hard to really care about.
As genuinely odd as Diamantino is, it certainly looks good thanks to some lovely cinematography by the delightfully named Charles Ackley Anderson and the cast is uniformly fine, with Tavares making a most favorable impression. As for the fluffy puppies, they’re absolutely adorable.