Completely bonkers and unpredictable, while also being surprisingly moving at times, Diamantino is everything an independent art-house movie should be and it should come as no surprise that it was the Cannes Critics Week winner. It addresses several modern-day political and social concerns, including countries leaving the EU. It sure ain’t subtle, but neither are the times we are living in. From the opening scenes, of our hero – Portugese football star Diamantino on the pitch at the World Cup, but imagining himself surrounded by pink candy floss clouds filled with giant fluffy puppies – we quickly realise that this is going to be a fantasy-filled visual feast.
Diamantino (Carloto Cotta) is a naive, pure-hearted soul who loves his Dad. His older twin sisters (played by Anabela and Margarida Moreira) exploit him to their advantage, mostly financial. When Diamantino screws the pooch in the World Cup Final, then his beloved father dies, he becomes understandably depressed. He comes to believe that he can break out of the doldrums by adopting a refugee child. Two agents who are also a couple – Aisha (Cleo Tavares) and Lucia (Maria Leite) – are investigating Diamantino for money laundering (not realising it is his evil sisters who are behind it). When they hear that he wants to adopt a refugee, they suspect that this is a part of a nefarious scheme and decide that Aisha will pose as Rahim – a refugee boy. Aisha can then secretly investigate Diamantino from the inside. There is also a subplot involving a scientist doing genetic experimentation on Diamantino (whilst also trying to use him as the poster-boy for a campaign to get Portugal out of Europe), which has the side-effect of giving him breasts. Everyone around this innocent is taking advantage of him and manipulating him for their own selfish ends. The fact that Diamantino is a Portugese football star who looks eerily like Christiano Ronaldo (one of the most arrogant and vain people on earth), but is in fact a sweet man-child, is a genius subversion of audience expectation. And this is by no means the only time that the rug is pulled out from under the audience.
Diamantino is just one of several recent movies (including the brilliant French film The Wild Boys) to have a refreshing approach to gender and sexuality. Many characters in films from the last year or so (in the independent world at least) are becoming much more fluid with both gender and sexuality, slipping from one thing to another without it being a huge deal or needing to be labelled. Aisha starts off as a woman in a relationship with a woman, then as she is posing as a boy, she starts to fall for a man, but this is while he is becoming more feminine. The political satire is also extremely current – the propaganda videos that Diamantino becomes a part of use the phrase “make Portugal great again” and one of the proposals is building a border wall between Portugal and Spain.
The costume and wardrobe (by Cypress Cook and Fatima Imagiario) and art direction (by Cypress Cook and Bruno Duarte) are one of the highlights of this film, especially considering what must have been a limited budget. Lucia poses as a nun when visiting ‘Rahim’ and for some reason her habit has enormous bunny ears. Diamantino’s pillow cases with his own face on are an amusingly authentic footballer detail. The evil twin sisters are styled as classic femme-fatales, looking like extras from Robert Plant’s Addicted to Love video. The visual effects by Irma Lucia are also pretty breath-taking for a low-budget indie – the filmmakers Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt were apparently aided by YouTube tutorials in making some of the effects come to life.
Diamantino is a gorgeous, kind-hearted fable about acceptance of who people are, rather than who we want them to be. It’s a bit like being in a sweet shop in a dream, you are bombarded by images and ideas – it’s all a little kitsch and little crazy, but ultimately there is emotion at the core. It is reminiscent of Unicorn Store (which came to Netflix earlier this year) – another brightly coloured modern-day fairy tale with an innocent at the centre. It is funny, outrageous and incredible to look at. Diamantino is definitely worth seeking out on VOD or however you get the chance to watch it.