PRINT May 2019



Still from Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino, 2018, Super 16, color, sound, 92 minutes. Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotta).

THE FIRST FEATURE-LENGTH WORK by the occasional collaborators Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, the delirious Diamantino (2018) centers on a disgraced, spectacularly dumb soccer superstar, his IQ not much higher than his body-fat percentage. The sports-celebrity-industrial complex is merely one target of this robust, rollicking satire, which exposes the idiocy engulfing the world—especially Europe—more nimbly and effectively than anything Michael Moore or the editorial board of The Guardian could ever concoct.

Although Diamantino premiered a full year ago, winning the grand prize at the International Critics’ Week program at Cannes last May, the geopolitical abominations it lampoons—Brexit, the mania for wall building, resurgent nationalism, the pathetic response to the migrant crisis—remain just as distressingly topical and intractable. Abrantes and Schmidt approach these subjects not with impotent, shooting-fish-in-a-barrel fury but with further absurdity, such as bizarre visions of gargantuan Pekingese puppies romping in cumuli of pale-pink foam that seize the eponymous Portuguese futebol hero (played by Carloto Cotta) when he’s on the field. The filmmakers’ light touch—which extends to their deftness at mixing formats ranging from voluptuous 16 mm to microbudget visual effects—ensures that the heavy themes don’t land with a thud.

Still from Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino, 2018, Super 16, color, sound, 92 minutes. Sónia Matamouros (Anabela Moreira) and Natasha Matamouros (Margarida Moreira).

Loopy yet incisive, Diamantino is markedly different in tone from the previous works codirected by Abrantes and Schmidt: the affectless, ironically titled short A History of Mutual Respect (2010), which follows two first-world bros (played by the filmmakers themselves) vacationing in remote Brazil and eager to fulfill their rank colonialist sexual fantasies (“Let’s go find some clean girls”); and the medium-length Palácios de pena (Palaces of Pity, 2011), an impassive teenage melodrama doubling as a gloss on certain dark chapters of Portuguese history. (Born in 1984 to parents who were members of the Maoist party in Portugal during that country’s 1974 revolution, Abrantes grew up primarily in the US and now lives in Lisbon; Schmidt, also born in ’84, is mainly based in Brooklyn. The more prolific of the duo, Abrantes has made several additional shorts with other collaborators and on his own; Schmidt’s oeuvre also includes films codirected with Alexander Carver.)

While those earlier titles evince shrewd, if sometimes bratty, political analyses, they can also frustrate as dead ends, anomic closed systems. Diamantino, in contrast, sustains its zippy, screwball energy without ever losing its bite. Much of that brio is rooted in Cotta’s exuberant performance as a childlike simpleton with a palate (Um Bongo juice, Nutella, Oreos) and playmates (a black kitten named Mittens often accessorizes Diamantino’s broad shoulders) to match. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, the famed futebolista the dim character is very loosely based on, Diamantino sports a high-and-tight and shucks his jersey (number: double zero) to flaunt his ripped abs after seemingly every kick on the pitch.

Diamantino exposes the idiocy engulfing the world more nimbly and effectively than anything Michael Moore or the editorial board of The Guardian could ever concoct.

“I didn’t know nothing outside of soccer,” the hunk says in voice-over. A riot of outlandish subplots—beginning with lesbian lovers working for a Portuguese intelligence agency who hatch an undercover scheme to nab the athlete for money laundering—proves the accuracy of that self-assessment. One of those sapphic government employees, Aisha (Cleo Tavares), poses as a young boy seeking asylum from Mozambique—and will soon be adopted by Diamantino, who, moping in his mansion after ignominiously botching a penalty kick in a championship game, grows ever more concerned with TV reports about those forced to flee their besieged home countries in rickety rafts. Upon hearing the term refugee for the first time, the dope responds, “‘Fugee’? What’s that?” He’s not the only one who struggles with words longer than two syllables; his diabolical twin sisters (Anabela and Margarida Moreira), having been told that their brother has had an epiphany, snarl back, “A ‘phany’?”

Diamantino’s slightly raised consciousness is not elevated enough for him to fully grasp the slogans emblazoned on the van belonging to Lamborghini Genetics, the ultra-right-wing bioengineering firm that wants to clone him to create a nation of super-homens: PORTUGAL WAS NEVER SMALL, VOTE YES TO LEAVE THE EU, VOTE YES TO THE WALL. There are at least three other plot points I’ve failed to mention, further displays of global lunacy that aren’t too far removed from our wretched current affairs. However glutted its narrative may be, Diamantino remains fleet and supple, a crucial comic project in our era of daily real-world derangements. 

Diamantino opens May 24 at Metrograph in New York.

Melissa Anderson is the film editor of 4Columns.