He Needed Love Like All the Rest: Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s “Diamantino”
Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s work has been gaining traction on the festival circuit quietly enough that Diamantino (2018) will surely be a complete surprise to most people seeing it. What to make of this film by a couple of young Americans working in every tongue but their own? They’ve taken as their subject the idiocy of perfection and its reverse — that a genius intellect that is only expressed through the movement of hands and feet needs to bypass common sense. Their vessel is the world’s greatest soccer player, the title character played by Carloto Cotta, a beautiful dimwit who loses touch with the serenity he needed to be the best.
Diamantino loses an important match after he’s been exposed to the existence of homeless refugees. He comes to this realization when they try to climb his yacht, while he spends time bonding with his father on it. His father’s passing and his newfound conscious make it easier to step away from soccer, much to the chagrin of his vicious sisters. They run the family bank accounts and know that Diamantino’s retirement will mean financial ruin. Their solution is like a cock-eyed Bond villain scheme: they’re going to secretly let a geneticist steal his DNA to clone him. The hormone treatments they give the Adonis are apparently frontloaded with estrogen because he begins growing breasts as soon as the weekly procedures start. They also get him work in what appears to be a series of strange commercials but are in fact a secret closed-borders campaign designed to get the Portuguese to vote to leave the European Union. The only person who sees what he’s being forced into is unfortunately in no place to help.
That person is Aisha (Cleo Tavares), who happens to be dating the operator of a surveillance drone. The appearance of the drones is timed to Diamantino’s wistful narration. He mentions that he’s being watched, which looks at first like a joke but every rogue stylistic choice and dramatic flight of fancy like this slowly grounds itself as the film progresses. Aisha sees Diamantino on the drone cameras her paramour monitors and decides to go undercover as an orphaned boy in need of rich parenting to investigate the billionaire star’s shady finances. Diamantino is dense enough to not see through the ruse, or indeed that his adopted son is in fact a 30-year-old woman. In order to let him know that she knows he’s innocent of whatever economic malfeasance is happening in his name, she’d have to expose herself as a woman and an agent of a shadowy organization. Adding further stress to Aisha’s dilemma is that her girlfriend has been watching her the whole time on the drone cameras and can see how close they’ve become.
The film’s political subtext and its artistic aspirations don’t ever quite get around to intertwining. Schmidt and Abrantes take Diamantino’s childish imagination as their language, allowing anything the overgrown boy believes to become real. From the drones he imagines watching his every move to his dream of becoming a dad to an orphan, Diamantino seems to manifest “monkey’s paw” versions of the life he thinks he wants. The crudeness with which Abrantes and Schmidt show us the inside of Diamantino’s brain is endearing if silly. When fully ensconced in a game, he imagines the field covered in giant puppies and pink glittery smoke, a sort of token of genius taking over his body. He needs the carelessness of childhood to literally surround him. His growing breasts is thus a sort of second puberty as he’s introduced over and over again to the cruelties of existence from which he’s been sheltered.
The fun and frivolity the two filmmakers have imagining the inside of the player’s mind, and then making it real, is frequently hilarious and fun. His world is a green-screen womb from which he must emerge naked and newly born, his mother figure the son he thought he was raising into a man. What this actually says about Portugal is anybody’s guess, and the more Schmidt and Abrantes insist the film is saying something important, the less convincing their argument becomes. As a candy-colored, sensual fantasy of attempting to earn wealth and the insular safety it’s procured for you, however, there are few drawbacks.
Daniel Schmidt and Gabriel Abrantes’ Diamantino screens at the 56th New York Film Festival on October 4, 5, and 10.