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'Ronaldo' chases Europhobes and fluff balls in zany Cannes satire

© Charades Films

Text by Benjamin DODMAN

Latest update : 2018-05-14

Godard-mania is in full swing 50 years after his May 68 antics in Cannes, while a Ronaldo lookalike tackles a pack of fluffy pink poodles in gonzo political satire “Diamantino”.

It’s been 50 years since Jean-Luc Godard famously helped force an end to the Cannes Film Festival, teaming up with François Truffaut, Claude Lelouch and others to halt proceedings in a gesture of solidarity with the protests that were then sweeping France. Like much of the May 68 legacy, Godard’s antics – including pictures of him hanging from the theatre curtains to prevent a screening – are now the stuff of legend, patronisingly celebrated by the same people who frown on the protesters and strikers of today.

That pivotal time in the career of the revered filmmaker, then at the height of his fame, was the subject of Michel Hazanavicius’s playful and irreverent “Redoubtable”, which screened at the festival last year. By 1968, Godard had completed one of the most extraordinarily creative decades in cinema history, but he had fallen out of love with beautiful films. “Breathless”, “Vivre sa vie” and “Pierrot le Fou” were already behind him, and he would never do anything like them again.

Teaser: Jean-Luc Godard's "The Image Book"

Still experimenting with film at 87, Godard remains a fixture of the festival he once stopped – even though he has long stopped bothering to show up on the French Riviera. Stills from his celebrated 1960s movies have inspired the official poster in two of the last three editions. Two years ago, Cannes opted for the sumptuous “Contempt”, an excoriation of the film industry as a corrupting environment in which screenwriters pimp their wives. This year we have a kiss from “Pierrot le Fou”, perhaps one of Godard’s last works to exult in beauty and love – but already a suggestion that the world really is too ghastly for us to revel in such guilty pleasures.

This ghastly state of affairs, and our culpability as passive mass-consumers of images, are the subject of his latest competition entry, which won hearty applause in Cannes (and not only from Godard’s loyal fanboy army). Infused with violence, “The Image Book” is a collage of bleached out and brutally cut fragments from film, painting, newsreels and even propaganda videos by the Islamic State (IS) group. It starts off with the horrors of the past century (Hiroshima, genocide, war) before drifting into an essay on the Arab world and the way we perceive and shape it.

Bewildering but also rewarding, Godard’s latest cinematic essay is a brutal and often fascinating experience that challenges viewers and the nature of film. It’s also not quite as inaccessible as it may sound (Godard’s own cryptic “synopsis” read like this: “Nothing but silence. Nothing but a revolutionary song. A story in five chapters like the five fingers of a hand”.) True to form, the reclusive filmmaker did his best to add to the mystery during a surreal press conference, proclaiming via a shaky FaceTime link-up from his Swiss alpine abode that the secret of film is “X + 3 = 1”.

One doesn’t need to be as thick as Tino, the adorably dimwitted protagonist of wacky sci-fi comedy “Diamantino”, to find many of Godard’s assertions rather puzzling. Screened in the Critics’ Week sidebar in Cannes, this delightful gonzo comedy by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt follows the adventures of a fictional player modelled on Portugal’s metrosexual football icon Cristiano Ronaldo. It stars the excellent Carloto Cotta (of “Tabu” fame) as Diamantino, or Tino, a “Zeus of the football pitch” and “modern-day Michelangelo” who becomes a figure of ridicule and a teary meme sensation once he misses a crucial penalty for Portugal in the World Cup final.

On the eve of that fateful match, Tino discovers a new purpose in life after encountering a group of refugees while sunbathing on his yacht (as footballers do before a final). He promptly adopts a refugee boy, who is actually a lesbian spy, though that turns out to be a stroke of luck after some sinister politicians team up with Tino’s evil twin sisters to exploit his image -- and carry out some dodgy experiments on him -- in their campaign to take Portugal out of the European Union. There’s also a pounding pack of candyfloss giant poodles that pops up every now and then, but to say anymore would be to spoil the fun.

A completely wacky pastiche full of B-movie staples, “Diamantino” wasn’t quite as funny as I was hoping. Nor is it as silly as I feared. There are in fact a host of weighty topics churning beneath the deliberately goofy plot, from queer sexuality to Europe’s refugee crisis and the rise of nationalist discourse. It made for a welcome distraction from the always serious Palme d’Or race, while also supplying the first genuine contenders for this year’s all-important Palme Dog award.

Date created : 2018-05-14

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