Film review: Diamantino, a new feature-length film from a pair of young nearly-local filmmakers, Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt
By Steve Mariotti
Rarely has a film-festival feature-length release made me laugh, cry and think hard about life as both an international celebrity soccer player and Gautama Buddha.
But Diamantino, a newly released feature-length film made by nearly local thirtysomethings Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt did just that.
Released in France, Portugal and Spain on September 1, the 92 minute film is making U.S. film festival rounds. Plans for a Princeton-area exhibition are in the works.
Abrantes and Schmidt were both born in 1984. Abrantes grew up in North Carolina with first-generation Portuguese parents and graduated from New York’s esteemed Cooper Union; Schmidt grew up in New Haven, Conn., where his late father,who died in 2007, was a Physics professor at Yale University and his mother was a professional fundraiser who also died at an early age of breast cancer.
The friends, who met while making a disaster film which was never completed, have made several obscure shorter films together, mostly filmed in Portugal; Diamantino is their first feature-length endeavor and, although avant garde, has some mainstream audience potential.
This surreal, slightly schlocky wild ride alternates highly acerbic dramatic commentary with sly good humor on subjects of such dire concern as neo-fascism, genetic modification, money laundering, sibling perfidy, embezzlement and money laundering.
In fact, Diamantino, with its rollicking neo-Fantasia spin, courses narratively through nearly all the major threats facing life as we know it in this increasingly vitriolic sexual and political climate.
Here’s the premise: Diamantino, the world’s premiere soccer star, intentionally characterized as a modern Candide, according to the film’s directors, is out on his enormous motor yacht with his doting father and diabolical twin sisters. They encounter a raft of African refugees.
One of the refugee mothers has lost a child at sea, a tragedy which particularly weighs on heart-of-gold Diamantino, a solitary sort whose “best friends” are his doting father and jealous twin sisters.
After first almost ignoring the rag-clad refugee clan overburdening an inflatable life raft, the soccer star, an astonishingly photogenic if empty-headed idealist, welcomes the refugees aboard his yacht.
Since he’s basically never seen misery and deprivation up-close before, Diamantino becomes deeply distracted by human suffering. This sudden intellectual expansion, however, damps his career. In a huge sports upset which takes him from hero to zero, he lets the opponent score in a surprise World Cup finals defeat which ends Diamantino’s career in disgrace.
The missed save or lost scoring opportunity -- it’s not wholly clear -- is so out-of-character for the Portuguese footballer (a clear send-up of world-famous Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, 33, who famously fathered a son via a professional surrogate mother fairly early in his career because he felt more ready to be a parent than a husband) that Diamantino’s beloved father, his mainstay of emotional support and professional encouragement, collapses on the field after the missed goal and dies of an apparent heart attack.
Suddenly Diamantino’s luxe life seems hollow and empty.
Bereft without his adored father, Diamantino decides he will reinvent himself as a person who helps others, beginning with the adoption of a needy refugee child.
Enter a mysterious trio of CIA-type female international money-laundering investigators, who have been alerted to suspicious activity in Diamantino’s finances via drone surveillance of his twin brunette sisters.
Ostensibly to help relaunch Diamantino’s wealth, status and career comeback, the sisters are surreptitiously draining his accounts and putting the proceeds into financial play in a way he would never have authorized. Or possibly even understood.
Also, they have agreed to secretly subject Diamantino to a genetic modification experiment which will provide an anti-European Union faction within Portuguese “football” with an all-Diamantino future team of 12 identical players.
One of the investigators -- Aisha, (played by Cleo Tavares) who is one-half of a same-sex couple -- decides to masquerade as a boy from Mozambique who will infiltrate the ornate Diamantino family manse and become his adoptive son.
The Diamantino residence is hysterically ornate and narcissistically filled with blankets, pillows and other decorative objects which depict the soccer star in various mediums and poses.
Diamantino, played to scene-stealing naive perfection by the breathtakingly handsome Portuguese film star Carloto Cotta, who is the same age as the film’s directors and also a social friend, throws himself into newfound fatherhood with enthusiasm and affection.
There are several reversals and near-misses, all as madcap and fast-moving as in a Howard Hawks film, and in fact, in an interview following last week’s screening of Diamantino at Lincoln Center, the filmmakers’ fondness and familiarity with classics such as His Girl Friday (1940) was mentioned.
Here’s what film critic, actor and sometime director Siddhant Adlakha, a graduate of NYU’s film school who divides his time between New York and Mumbai, had to say about Diamantino after screening it at the New York Film Festival.
“An unbelievable blast..that feels cobbled together from the most impulsive cinematic instincts, the ones where creators might ordinarily second-guess themselves on account of ideas being too silly, and it’s charming as hell, a start-to-finish joy,” wrote Adlakha, in a review published in a New York film news portal.
Other critics were equally enthusiastic about Diamantino, which judges at the Cannes Film Festival awarded “Best Film at Critics Week.”
“An instant cult classic,” said one.