Sometimes a film cannot be pinned down to a specific genre. "Diamantino," now screening at the New York Film Festival, is that perfect example. A hybrid of sci-fi, comedy, fantasy, romance, and surrealism, it defies explanation and follows its own beautifully dark and twisted creative freedom.
Following Diamantino (Carloto Cotta), a Portuguese football star who is all but disgraced by his own country for missing an important penalty kick, directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt's beautifully dreamy original tackles the refugee crisis, genetic modification, neo-fascism, and yes, even giant fluffy puppies in an ambitiously absurdist tale of a guy who is trying to find some kind of redemption.
The film opens on a wide lens shot of an unknown galaxy, and a voiceover leads us further back down to earth as a World Cup match that has us watching Diamantino controlling the ball and effortlessly carrying it through the offensive zone. However, soon after, a barrage of mega-sized pink fluffy puppies appear on the field, figments of his own imagination that seem to be helping our protagonist in his play. This eventually leads to him getting tripped down, and a chance to tie the game on a penalty kick appears, but his kick goes wide. The fallout to the failed kick is immense, and Diamantino is now a national disgrace and in a dark place. He soon decides to quit the sport and announces his desire to do some good in this world and adopt a refugee or, as this not all too bright, naive and beautiful man says, a "fugee."
Diamantino's resentful and opportunistic twin sisters, who are in control of his finances -- think Cinderella's evil siblings -- take advantage of their brother at every turn. They are flabbergasted at his decision to call it quits and to continue the barrage of money that he has brought to them all these years. They decide to sell him out as some sort of guinea pig for an uber secret genetic cloning experiment meant to duplicate a bunch of Diamantinos, all this much to the Soccer star's continuous dim-witted obliviousness.
Diamantino, meanwhile, is also being spied on, via drone, by secret service agents, Lucia and Aishia. They're looking for any evidence of potential off-shore fraud accounts by his dubiously scheming sisters. An opportunity to infiltrate his circle presents itself when Diamantino, wanting to give back to the community after his disgraced soccer career, decides to adopt the aforementioned 'fugee.' Aishia poses as "Rahim", a refugee boy who Diamantino adopts as his own 'son' and quickly develops a close friendship with.
A lot is stuffed into "Diamantino" and its breezy 90 minute running time (maybe a little too much), but the sheer entertainment never lets up. This ethereal genre-mashup concocted by Abrantes and Schmidt provides stinging satire that elevates the film far beyond its B-movie lunacy into a kind of post 21st century wake-up call to the masses. The soccer star starts off as a naive, harmless pretty boy who is paid to score goals, participate in underwear ads, and really, just shut up. However, he gets a rude awakening by uncovering the capitalism and propaganda which has used him as a tool to control the masses. What Abranted and Schmidt try to imply is that the political and commercial exploitation of Diamantino is the political and commercial exploitation of us as well, a way for government to further use their agenda to the masses.
The multitude of genre shifts makes these heavy themes, ambitiously stuffed into a luscious-looking cinematic package, satirically biting. This is an intellectually satisfying film, boldly stated through genre hybrids, physical comedy and a comedic sense of obliviousness from its Gump-esque lead character, bringing on insanely funny moments as well. It's rather silly irreverence, packed with meaty themes that could easily lead to philosophically sophisticated conversations post-screening. One is reminded of Hal Ashby's now prophetic 1979 masterpiece "Being There," which also had its dim-witted protagonist journeying through the deepest, darkest corners of government and uncovering, mistakenly and obliviously, the true depths of a damaged civil society. [B+]