Found in Translation

We Could All Learn a Valuable Lesson From this Bizarre 2018 Sci-Fi Epic

Diamnatino has plenty to say the refugee crisis, the rise of fascism in Europe, outdated gender norms, and even the nature of athletic talent.

Inverse/Syndrome Films
Found in Translation

Adorable himbo Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotta) is the most famous soccer player in the world. At least, that’s the case in co-directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s delightfully bizarre, Portuguese-language first feature that bears his name. His handsome squared-jawed mug and chiseled physique are monuments carved in honor of the most traditionally idealized form of the male body. This hunk behaves with the wide-eyed innocence of a child whose only concern is to make his loving father proud, but even that won’t stop nefarious forces from trying to use his image as a symbol of toxic white masculinity.

As it unspools into increasingly zanier occurrences, Diamnatino reveals itself at once heartwarming and thought-provoking as it grapples with the refugee crisis, the rise of fascism in Europe, outdated gender norms, and even the nature of athletic talent. It blends elements of science fiction and fairytale into an irreverent concoction.

Abrantes and Schmidt use dreamlike VFX here to bring us inside Diamantino’s colorfully infantile headspace.

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Although the filmmakers claim they didn’t base any characters on real people, it’s impossible not to associate Diamantino with Portugal’s soccer prodigy, Cristiano Ronaldo. The two even share the same haircut, stud earrings, and facial physiology. On the field, Diamantino doesn’t see his teammates nor his opponents. In his mind he is the lone player kicking the ball among giant fluffy puppies enveloped in a cloud of pink fuzz. That reassuring fantasy enables him to remain calm and score with ease. Abrantes and Schmidt use dreamlike VFX here to bring us inside Diamantino’s colorfully infantile headspace.

With the privilege of hindsight, a future version of Dimantino narrates the series of ordeals we are about to witness. In this reality, Portugal and Sweden make it to the final match of the 2018 World Cup. Unfortunately, the day before the decisive game, Diamantino’s rose-colored outlook on the world is shattered after witnessing the suffering of refugees at sea. Not only does he miss a penalty kick, but his father dies that same night. Fallen from grace, Diamantino’s crying face of defeat becomes a humiliating meme.

Diamantino goes viral for all the wrong reasons.

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Soon, the unsuspecting Diamantino falls prey to multiple entities eager to take advantage of his lowest point. At his palatial residence, his greedy sisters — twins Sonia (Anabela Moreira) and Natasha (Margarida Moreira) — abuse him and steal his fortune, acting about as subtle as the villains in a Disney movie. But that’s not the worst of Diamantino’s problems.

The directors decisively critique far-right ideologies by introducing a nationalist political organization’s plan to clone Diamantino and create an invincible soccer team that can keep the masses happy with their victories. In addition to subjecting him to numerous tests (which include mixing his DNA with that of a clown fish), the radical conservative group uses Diamantino as the face of a publicity campaign exalting Portugal’s colonial past. The ridiculous commercials, which feature the player dressed in conquistador attire, encourage the population to vote in favor of leaving the EU. The anti-immigrant rhetoric takes a page from the Trump administration and promises to build a wall in order to halt the refugee influx. Diamantino, who has the cognitive capacity of a kid, mindlessly goes along with it.

When he’s playing soccer, Diamantino imagines himself totally alone in a calm, fluffy environment.

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Cotta’s radiant charisma holds the absurdist elements together. His performance registers on the same wavelength as Ryan Gosling in Barbie lovable simpletons played without cynicism but instead unabashed sincerity present a challenge few actors excel at. Thanks to Cotta’s excitable and naïve demeanor, there’s never doubt in our minds that Diamantino is exactly who he seems to be. No tricks up his sleeve. The actor, also recently seen in the Macedonia-set witch saga, You Won't Be Alone, conveys such a disarming energy it manages to make us care deeply for this muscly idiot.

As if all those obstacles weren’t enough, Diamantino’s finances are also the subject of an investigation by Portugal’s Secret Service. Capitalizing on his desire to do good, Aisha (Cleo Tavares), a Black woman working on his case, dresses up in juvenile clothing and pretends to be a refugee boy named Rahim. Clueless, Dimantino takes on the role of a devoted father, just as the cloning process begins to alter his body in ways that confuse him. Initially, Diamantino’s relationship with Aisha feels worthy of laughter, but as she discovers the endless compassion within him, the movie turns surprisingly endearing.

Diamantino goes to some weird places.

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That Aisha (a lesbian presumably with ties to the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde) and Diamantino (now living in an androgynous body) eventually triumph over the conservative antagonists who want to weaponize him to advance their cause reads like a bold statement. Overstuffed with ingenuity as Abrantes and Schmidt’s one-of-a-kind satire is, its core themes have sadly become even more timely. Only a year after the 2018 release of Diamantino, the alarmingly populist Chega party was founded in Portugal. Since then, Chega has surged as a strong force in the country, galvanizing those on the far right.

Scary times loom in a world that doesn’t have giant fluffy puppies running around. For our own sake, may all learn to love a bit more selflessly (and, yes, stupidly) as Diamantino.

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