Diamantino: Sorry to Boggle You, by David Bax
It’s probably the giant puppies that will make the first big impression on you in Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino. If it’s not that, then it’ll be the similarly outlandish, perfect physique of star Carloto Cotta who, in the title role, spends most of the movie in various states of undress. Diamantino Matamouros is Portugal’s biggest soccer star and, when he’s in his element out on the field, the other players disappear from his sight, replaced by enormous puppies frolicking in pink clouds, just one of many surreal touches Abrantes and Schmidt employ to varying degrees of effectiveness.
Diamantino has led Portugal to the World Cup final but, the day before the deciding match, a yacht outing puts him in the path of a small boat carrying stranded African refugees. Diamantino’s sudden awareness of the plight of others leads to his distraction the following day. The puppies disappear, he misses the goal and suddenly his life of adoration and comfort begins to fall apart. His voiceover narration, though, seems to be looking back at these events from some point in the future, so maybe he’s gonna be okay. Or maybe, like Joe Gillis, he’s dead.
Diamantino‘s story will quickly go to stranger, conspiracy-minded, science fiction places but this parable of wokeness is the crux. European films about the ongoing refugee crisis have been plentiful in recent years but here those poor folks are just a catalyst (we never see them again) for a broader allegory about our political present and the real intentions of those who want to “Make Portugal Great Again.”
Standing out among all the progressive politics is the film’s complicated look at gender dynamics. Diamantino is a manchild and an easily manipulated puppet (Cotta’s immersive performance makes him like a more lovable Derek Zoolander) but he’s only an extreme version of all the other men in the movie. Women call the shots in Abrantes and Schmidt’s world but they do so mostly with varying degrees of cruelty. It’s funny how little anyone seems to care for Diamantino as an emotional being but it’s also unrelentingly cynical.
Most of the best jokes in Diamantino, though, are the visual ones. Abrantes and Schmidt display a command of classical film language that they are able to tweak to hilariously ironic effect. Constantly positioning Diamantino in the same frame as his own likeness–modeling underwear on billboards; plastered on the bedsheets in his own home–never fails to generate laughs but it also puts the shamed celebrity in never-ending contrast with his prelapsarian self.
At other times, though, the visual gags are just wonderfully goofy. When Cleo Tavares as Aisha, an undercover, female intelligence agent posing as a teenage boy, zips around the countryside on a tiny motorcycle, it’s hard not to laugh. Another running joke has Diamantino and his family watching their enormous, wall-mounted television that’s partially obscured by the constant glare from their equally enormous, tacky chandelier. And I’ll admit to laughing out loud when Aisha hacks into secret government files by running a program called “Execute Hacking.”
As a satirical and outlandish comedy about modern, right wing political threats, Diamantino shares DNA with Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You. It also sometimes shares that film’s overstuffed unwieldiness. Diamantino may toss too many balls in the air to satisfyingly retrieve all of them but that can’t rob the experience of its strange, wacky fun.