(Portugal/France/Brazil, 97 min.)
Dir. Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt
Programme: Midnight Madness (North American Premiere)
Abrantes and Schmidt are part of a New York avant-garde film scene comprised mostly of Cooper Union grads that includes sometime collaborators Alexander Carver, Benjamin Crotty and James N. Kienitz Wilkins. They’re all in their 30s now and their oeuvres of purposely stilted, sort of political, sort of funny (or at least in-jokey) objets d’art—“queasy comedies,” in Nick Pinkerton’s terms—have been fixtures of experimental film festivals and programs like Images and Wavelengths for around a decade now.
I’ve never been a big fan. So when I say that Diamantino is a masterpiece, possibly even the best film I’ve seen this year, know that doing so gives me no pleasure.
The first clue that we’re in for something different here is that Diamantino is not in Wavelengths—it is, in fact, the closing film of Midnight Madness. I’m not sure that any filmmaker has ever transitioned from the one to the other, but the programming makes perfect sense. It’s also their first feature, and won the Critic’s Week at Cannes.
Here’s the elevator pitch: a star Portuguese footballer—who is definitely not Cristiano Ronaldo—with the mental capacity of a small child, a pair of evil sisters and a doting father, misses a key penalty kick in the World Cup finals a day after an encounter with a boat of refugees while out on his yacht, leading him to quit football and adopt a refugee he takes to be a boy from Mozambique but who is actually an undercover (lesbian) Secret Service agent investigating him for tax fraud. Meanwhile, his sisters sell him out to a fascist party that wants to make him the poster boy for a vote to leave the European Union, who in turn contract a mad scientist to run genetic tests on him so that they can clone him. Then he grows breasts and falls in love. Oh, there are also giant angelic puppies.
In case you need a list, that’s sports, family, refugees, tax havens, surveillance, neofascism, gender, technology, mental illness… and I’m probably missing some stuff. (Oh yeah, Diamantino’s father also says he’s his era’s Michelangelo, so we’ve got the decline of art and the rise of mass spectacle in there as well.) In its madcap treatment of a litany of hot-button issues, Diamantino is a worthy counterpart to Sorry To Bother You, probably my other film of the year.
This is the part where I get up on my soapbox and extemporize on how the only valid cinema of this era of unprecedented fragmentation and stupidity and luxury and evil and beauty and so on is precisely this kind of chaotic kaleidoscopic mess that satirizes anything and everything under a gloss of assured aesthetics—but actually I think everyone’s on the same page. So all I have to say is, see it. It is ludicrous, lots of it in terrible taste, and full of plot holes. Like I said, a masterpiece.