The incredibly inventive Portuguese film “Diamantino” opens with a disclaimer that “the story, all names, characters, and incidents seen here are fictitious,” including “actual persons (living or deceased), places, products, genetic procedures, or giant puppies.” Written and directed by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, this amusing satire could not possibly be real — even if it draws inspiration from Portuguese soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s life: the film is too batshit crazy, but in the best possible way. “Diamantino” is campy and silly one minute and shooting barbed political flak at the European Union the next. The filmmakers play with gender and sexuality, genetics, cloning, body altering, African refugees, the World Cup, and, as promised, giant fluffy puppies.
The title character (Carloto Cotta) is a hotshot player for Portugal’s national soccer team. When he’s on the pitch, Diamantino gets into the zone by imagining the puppies — a technique that has led to his success. But during a World Cup game, the puppies disappear and Diamantino misses a crucial penalty kick. His teary response to letting the country down is mocked and becomes a meme. In a live TV interview, he announces he plans to quit soccer and adopt an African refugee. A scene where he first encounters a “fugee” is awkwardly hilarious.
Enter Aisha (Cleo Tavares), a Portuguese secret service agent whose lover and colleague, Lucia (Maria Leite), hopes to uncover evidence of Diamantino’s money laundering. Aisha goes undercover as a male African refugee orphan named Rahim to investigate Diamantino. Many of the film’s comic moments have Diamantino interacting with Rahim, sharing his favorite foods (bongo juice and Nutella crepes) or cuddling with him in bed, which are made up with sheets that features Diamantino on them. When Aisha privately laughs at his “father” who acts like a child, it is infectious. But what is weirder is what happens next.
“Diamantino” features a subplot involving the soccer player’s evil and greedy twin sisters, Sonia (Anabela Moreira) and Natasha (Margarida Moreira) who secretly enroll him in a genetic experiment for boatloads of money. Diamantino is evaluated by Dr. Lamborghini (Carla Maciel), who discovers he is only using 10% of his brain function, which makes him not very smart, but extremely compassionate and childlike. The plan is to clone Diamantino and create an invincible soccer team. Aisha takes an interest, hoping to break the case wide open. Of course, chaos ensues.
Abrantes and Schmidt ably juggle all these plots and characters and subterfuges to create an irresistible, frothy comedy. The film pokes fun at the EU secession as a right-wing group employs Diamantino for a political ad campaign. There are jokes that involve Lucia, who dresses up as a scooter-riding nun, getting jealous when she pays visits to “Rahim” and discovers Aisha in bed with Diamantino. And there is a wild, physical side effect to the genetic treatments that causes the macho soccer star some embarrassment. The film mocks gender and sexuality in playful ways. (It would destroy the film’s humor to reveal more).
“Diamantino” also benefits from Cotta’s remarkably shrewd and unselfconscious performance. He is very much in on the joke, milking his every expression for comic gold. Cotta plays Diamantino as delightfully clueless and charming; he always full of conviction. A scene where Diamantino blows Rahim a kiss and bounces the “kiss” all over his body like a soccer ball, is enchanting. Likewise, his “performance” in the political ads is quite funny. Moreover, the directors fetishize the attractive actor throughout. Cotta often appears shirtless, or in skimpy briefs—especially when he is being genetically tested and tied up against a wall in a Christ-like pose. The eye-candy is certainly pleasing to watch but it also makes a point: Diamantino is compared to an Olympic God—he is dubbed Zeus on the field—and given wealth and opportunity because of his singular talent and (tele)genetics. The ideas about cloning such perfection are clever, given how imperfect Diamantino is.
However, as good as the parts are, they ultimately, may be greater than the whole. “Diamantino” start out as a comedy about a soccer player under criminal investigation but ends up with nude lovers frolicking on a beach. It is not the constantly shifting narrative that is a problem, but by the finale, viewers may be exhausted from having almost too much to process here. Nevertheless, “Diamantino” is a fun, thrilling ride.
DIAMANTINO | Directed by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt | IN Portuguese with English subtitles | Kino Lorber | Opens May 24 at Metrograph, 7 Ludlow St., btwn. Canal & Hester Sts.; |metrograph.com | May 31 at BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Ave. at St. Felix St., Brooklyn; bam.org