A footballer runs across the pitch towards the goal at a packed out, cheering stadium. The world melts away as he approaches to strike… and the pitch is filled with giant fluffy puppies surrounded by a sparkly pink mist.
This is just the opening scene of Diamantino, a bizarre yet charming fantasy comedy from directing duo Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt. Mixing and bending genres – and gender – throughout, the film follows the handsome Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotta), Portugal’s best footballer, as he embarks on a mission to regain his glory after an embarrassing defeat at the World Cup finals. Manipulated by his wicked twin sisters (Anabela Moreira and Margarida Moreira), who seek to profit from their talented and doltish brother, Diamantino’s narrow worldview is blown wide open, forcing him to encounter – among other things – refugees, cloning, nationalism and body modification.
The plot promptly heads off in several different directions at once, and though it may be bewildering at first, each storyline tie together surprisingly neatly. Everyone Diamantino comes into contact with uses him for their own personal agenda, and the constant manipulation of such a sweet, entirely naïve character is painful to watch – at one point, a TV host shows the star pictures of his recently deceased father on live TV, making him cry.
This isn’t a film that rests on realism though. Each character has a fairy tale quality, especially Diamantino’s sisters, who beat him and rarely speak a kind or quiet word, making him the princess in need of rescuing. It’s this harsh treatment of Diamantino that makes the film so heartfelt and amusing – it’s easy to feel sorry for the oblivious star while simultaneously laughing at him as he makes piles of Nutella crêpes (his favourite food) for the refugee he adopts as his son.
The idea of a fully grown man at the peak of physical fitness, with a head so full of football that he has no real awareness or experience of adult life, makes for a hilarious character, and Cotta plays the part with a winning sensitivity. It also works to undermine and question the idols of pop culture that are presented to the public – what do we really know about them, other than what their public image tells us?
Also memorable is the film’s distinct imagery. Composite shots of a football stadium filling with ocean water, Diamantino running naked through a candy-coloured galaxy and, of course, those giant puppies bounding through pink mist, combine to create a strong visual tone that visualises the footballer’s new experiences in a world he’s entirely unfamiliar with.
Like its preened protagonist, the film appears a little scatterbrained at first, but Abrantes and Schmidt connect multiple themes and character arcs to form an intelligent, witty, fantastical take on celebrity culture, politics and masculinity. They have created a beautifully made curio that captures the heart and takes us on a bewildering, immensely fun ride.