Review: Political Ambivalence and Surrealism Collide in ‘Diamantino’

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Have you ever seen giant fluffy dogs prance around pink cotton candy mist as you try to score a goal at the World Cup? No? Well me neither, but Gabriel Abrantes’ and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino has that and more. In a surreal depiction of contemporary Portugal, Diamantino is one of the weirdest films since Sorry to Bother You, and curiously, the film makes similar efforts to commentate on the social and political landscape it takes aim at.

The titular character is a world class soccer player who is on top of the world until he isn’t. After missing a crucial penalty kick at the World Cup, Diamantino becomes a national pariah. Facing scrutiny, he goes soul searching and finds new found purpose in adopting a refugee boy. The catch is that the refugee boy is actually a girl and she’s actually an undercover government agent secretly performing a tax audit on the super star. All the while Diamantino’s twin sisters are selling him out to Portugal’s right-wing political party for nefarious purposes. Despite glaring signs that both of these farces are going on, Diamantino remains blissfully unaware, exhibiting a pure naïveté of the world around him as others influence and take advantage of him.

That synopsis is actually rather tame. Like Sorry to Bother You, this film’s weirdest elements are hidden behind spoilers, but rest assured, this film isn’t afraid to use its imagination. That imagination paints a satirical portrait of our own world despite being filled with unbelievable portrayals. Diamantino is a heightened, dumb celebrity with a genuinely good heart who is visually similar to Christiano Ronaldo. The twins are a pair of wicked step sisters who are caricatures of money grubbing family members. There’s a political party that literally uses “Make Portugal Great Again” as its slogan and makes calls to action for building a wall. The commentary is overt, but to the effect of creating a comical depiction of society, a depiction that is so honest that it makes you wonder if it’s even exaggerated at all.

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The film has hints of something like Sullivan’s Travels (1941), but instead of a successful movie director pretending to be apart of the Depression era homeless population, you have a football star adopting a Mozambique refugee, or as he naively callers her, a ‘fugee.’ Thematically, there are similarities between them that discuss the role of privileged individuals when a social issue arise. Though Sullivan’s Travels is more about Hollywood’s role in social commentary during the depression, Diamantino distills that film’s narrative backbone for its own angle on contemporary issues.

Is it the right thing for Diamantino to adopt one refugee when he is ambivalently letting a fear-mongering political party take control of Portugal and subsequently himself? That being, while he may feel validated for his good deed, he really isn’t helping the situation as a whole, a conclusion that Sullivan comes to in the 1941 film after trying to assimilate with the impoverished population so he can make a more authentic film. 

I think Abrantes’ and Schmidt’s goal is to hold a mirror up to our own ambivalence. Diamantino is so clueless that he lets the political party take advantage of him. They gain power because of his own inability to see the world around him, so while he seemingly makes himself feel better for the one thing he did — which is genuinely something good — it ignores the bigger issue, and that’s the problem. The problem becomes so pervasive that the ambivalence results in Diamantino’s own ...well... uh... let’s just say something happens to him because he didn’t bother to stop, look around, and abject to the conditions around him.

Diamantino opens Friday, July 19th at SIFF Uptown.