Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Sports films are formulaic and satisfying, rivaled in their consistency perhaps only by the rock n’ roll biopic. The beats and moments are familiar, traceable and they seldom pack surprises, the ones that do, the Raging Bull’s and the Rocco and his Brothers’ are often daring, and whose risks become especially notable due to the constraints on the genre. It may be slightly platitudinal at this point, however, Diamantino is truly a sports film unlike any other. It’s most remarkable feat, beyond incorporating the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe, the refugee crisis, giant puppies and an espionage plot into a sports flick, is that it never once stops feeling like a sports flick but never once fully becomes one.
The titular character, Diamantino (Carloto Cotta), is a sweet, ignorant, and kind young man whose implausible innocence and stupidity bless him with a divine passivity as he navigates his strikingly simple world turned upside down by the death of a patriarch and the interference of a covert agency. While the ending is a mighty head-scratcher, leaving plenty of loose threads, a film that delights in its own pure spectacle as much as this, doesn’t necessarily need to explain itself.
The film begins with Diamnatino comparing his playing soccer to looking at paintings on the roofs of churches because they are so “sublime”, implying with the parallel, that the church in all it’s “sublimity” was perhaps only so because of its profound and willful naivety, like, Diamantino, it’s strength is lost when it becomes conscious and achingly self-aware. He becomes a larger (albeit cloudy) allegory for the European state, ignoring the issues of refugees and nationalism to focus on the communion of sports, further evoking Christian tradition.
Diamantino lives in an illusion. When he plays soccer the field transforms into fluffy-pink clouds adorned with bundles of prancing puppies, these are the moments where his dissociation is at its most comical, visible and absurd. This powerful relationship Diamantino maintains between his reality and his fantasy spill off the field into his personal relationships. His sisters are domineering and controlling, while his father holds him in suffocatingly high esteem, though Diamantino notices none of this and gleefully floats along the comfortable trajectory of his existence.
His father’s passing and a chance encounter with a stray boat of refugees ensures Diamantino’s catalyst to growth. The film becomes many different things at this point that I would be remiss in spoiling but it’s genre-lines become increasingly blurry and the plot outlandishly unbelievable to the point where it invents its own logic and nothing is surprising. The performances are universally entertaining particularly Cleo Tavares who is at turns sympathetic, sinister and comic as Aisha. The real showstopper, however, is Cotta who imbues Diamantino with all the accidental, awkward swagger that a gorgeous man-child never forced to reckon with the world’s darkness would carry; fumbling through situations like a Bressonian saint in compression shorts.
Diamantino has a lot to say, perhaps too much for its protagonist to handle. While it offers up many nuggets of interest to chew on and reckon with, it’s a film that distinctly does not know exactly what it wants to say. It wants to talk about the refugee crisis, racism and hostility in Europe, however, it seldom resolves any of these points or even bothers to reconcile them with the plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it injected a politicism and simmering anger that would have otherwise been absent from the film, however, it comes at the expense of both the characters and the issues themselves.
Never once did Diamantino cease to be enjoyable or out stay its welcome. Even if it falls short of its ambitions (much like its protagonist) the earnest attempt to fulfill them is incredibly compelling. It’s campy, it’s original, and it’s fun. The insistence on incoherence, far from being a disservice to the film, makes for a refreshing eclecticism, joviality and juvenility often lacking in European Art Cinema. Frivolous, sure. Forgettable? Not a chance.