From the moment the giant, fluffy Pekingese puppies appear in candy-coloured clouds of dust on a football field, it’s clear that Diamantino, from the writer-director twosome of Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, is about to take you on a ride. A coping mechanism for the moronic but well-meaning Portuguese footballer, Diamantino, the giant dogs might only be the fifth strangest thing the the film hurls at the audience… in the first 20 minutes.
Thrown off his game when he glimpses a refugee family at sea who’ve been separated from their child, the doltish Cristiano Ronaldo lookalike experiences a swift fall from grace. It doesn’t take long for the film to dive into its particular brand of weirdness – launching into nefarious plots involving a cop going undercover as an adopted child, cloning, a doctor named Lamborghini and satire of far-right nationalist sentiments that plague Europe in the real world. A secret agent being disguised as a nun who rides a Vespa around is somehow the least ridiculous thing about this movie. It’s an astounding balancing act, juggling a number of different genre tropes, all while satirising modern day politics and challenging views of gender, and even parodying the strange feverishness around football (referred to here as “the opium of the masses”).
Despite being modelled after Cristiano Ronaldo, Diamantino is actually a good person at heart, even if he is a sheltered airhead. Carloto Cotta plays him with heartrending earnestness, only amplified by the goofy visual jokes that the directors sew throughout the film – the Diamantino pillows, his ‘secret folder’ on his computer labelled ‘DIAMANTINO ONLY!!’, which is just filled with pictures of puppies. He’s often mocked and abused by his cruel sisters (who seem to be taken straight out of a fairy tale or an episode of Basketball Wives), who make fun of him for being sensitive and often call him effeminate. The film is as much about his masculinity as it is about political turmoil, with its satire of anti-EU and xenophobic attitudes currently plaguing Europe unfolding at the fringes while Tino remains blissfully unaware, though he may not understand what it means even if someone told him.
There’s a wonderful method to the madness of Diamantino, which crams an unbelievable amount of commentary into a surreal, entertaining 90 minutes. Its engagement with far-right politics, weird as it may be, never feels like empty reference like in so many other films that try to address the god-awful era we currently live in. And even if that doesn’t grab you, there’s always the big fluffy puppies.
Diamantino was seen and reviewed at the BFI London Film Festival 2018.