Special Effects: C
Try to imagine how a movie gets to this point: A disgraced star soccer player, who has grown breasts, is approached by a young woman he thinks of as his adopted refugee son, who reveals her own breasts hidden under bandage wrap. This is when said soccer player, who, and I cannot stress this enough, had thought of the woman as his son, is seduced by her, and then they “make love,” even though Diamantino has heretofore been presented as a man with an otherwise empty, childlike brain that is completely sexless.
Wait, what? Conceivably someone with more capable skill than co-writer-director duo Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt could have brought us to this point in a way that was at all satisfying or at least made some sense. This team doesn’t quite make it, always presenting a story that merely flirts with making sense, that’s somewhere two steps to the left of innocently bizarro fun.
And that kind of “fun” seems to be what Diamantino is going for. Instead, it tackles disparate topical issues by examining them, and mixing them, in vaguely uncomfortable ways. It starts innocently enough, introducing us to Diamantino (Carloto Cotta, nailing the “dumb jock” look) on the soccer field, playing in the World Cup for Portgual (from which this movie comes), getting “in the zone” by imagining he is surrounded by giant fluffy puppies moving through a pink mist that looks sort of like viscous cotton candy.
But, he misses a penalty kick and thereby loses Portugal’s chance at the World Cup title. In the wake of this, he decides he wants to give up soccer, and after he helps his father take some refugees of a raft onto his yacht, he sets his sights on adopting a refugee child. This guy is presented as so dumb, when discussing this on a nationally televised interview and asked where he might adopt a child from, he replies, “Anywhere! Maybe Canada.”
Suspected by the government of laundering money, a lesbian couple who work for the Portuguese Secret Service pose as a nun and the aforementioned refugee boy. They make this deal in an empty underground garage, because of course, that’s where nuns frequent. Then again, Diamantino is just a lovable idiot, after all.
I haven’t even mentioned his evil twin sisters yet. They are awful from the moment they first appear onscreen, and never in a fun way. All you can do is actively hate these women. They treat Diamantino, as well as their father, like shit; they are insanely entitled “rich bitches” (which they use as the password for their joint computer account, on a computer they share with their brother, like all spoiled rich kids, right?); who spent a lot of time literally screaming at people in unison for no particularly good reason. They are such awful characters they nearly make the movie unbearable on their own.
Somehow, Diamantino has gotten this far without ever developing a mean bone in his body, oblivious to getting duped at every corner, to the point where his sisters sell him out to experiments meant to clone him to make an entire new national soccer team. The aim? To replicate his “genius” on the field (aside from that last mistake, I guess) to the point of whipping up Portuguese nationalism, with the ultimate aim of “making Portugal great again” and leaving the European Union. That’s right: all of this is in service of a broader plot point about the evils of nationalism. The people who run these experiments, which Diamantino has been led to believe are “physicals” — he does find them weird, at least — are like bad carbon copies of Bond villains.
As over the top as it is, Diamantino as a film seems to think it’s being subtle with its “topicality.” Instead, it uses themes of ethnic tensions and sexuality in vaguely dubious ways. It can’t seem to decide between a “white savior” complex, a crisis of conscience, and its uniquely bizarre take on gender-bending. It does not engender much faith that it could tackle any one of those things, should the focus be narrowed down, with much finesse.
I can’t help but wonder how this movie plays to Poruguese audiences. To be fair, there is a clear undercurrent of satire that quite possibly works better in cultural context. Some of it is easier to pick up, such as Diamantino’s omnipresent underwear campaign, on billboards and such. But again, Diamantino is prestented as completely sexless, except for the one point where, to put it bluntly, he fucks the woman he thought was his son. The rest of the movie is so platonic in its explorations of everything about him that, even when a later fantasy sequence features him nude on the soccer field with the giant fluffy puppies, it is in no way erotic. He’s just like an overgrown, little boy.
And I just don’t get it. Maybe this entire movie is genius and I just don’t have the IQ for it. Otherwise, it’s a rare example where I am more in line with the befuddled audiences than the other critics who have surprisingly quite liked it. It’s the audience interest that really matters, though, and no one in the U.S. is really rushing out to see this movie. They don’t need to, and just trust me, neither do you.