By Don Simpson | March 10, 2012
Director: Mads Brügger
Mads Brügger literally risks his life during an earnest attempt to purchase a Liberian ambassadorship to the Central African Republic under the moniker “Mads Cortzen.” Why? Well, if we believe his cover story, Brügger hopes to build a match factory to be staffed by at least one pygmy (you know, to give his business venture some local credibility). Brügger’s true goal, however, is to smuggle diamonds out of Africa in his diplomatic luggage. If anyone realizes what Brügger is really doing — studiously documenting this entire venture via hidden cameras — he will almost certainly be killed instantly.
Dressed like a caricature of a colonial overlord, one might think that Brügger’s wardrobe would blow his Sacha Baron Cohen-esque charade. But his African business partners are too blinded by money and corruption to notice the falsities in Brügger’s clothing and props. As it turns out, not only does Brügger dress like this on purpose, his stunt works. He comes across as the perfect sucker to the African politicians, businessmen and attorneys; they fall for his “wealthy, eccentric and naive shtick” hook, line and sinker. While everyone with whom Brügger enters into business agreements should easily be able to do background checks to reveal his true identity (not to mention his history in television and film), everyone is so mesmerized by Brügger’s smokescreen that they never bother.
Like Sacha Baron Cohen, Brügger opens himself to controversy by arguably going too far with his ruse. Not only does he employ and train local townspeople to build the match factory that will never actually get built, but he also funds a diamond mine that proudly utilizes child labor and gives tons of cash to corrupt politicians by way of “envelopes of happiness.” We will never know exactly what collateral damage was done by Brügger — the argument could be made that if Brügger did not provide the funding, someone else with much more sinister intentions would stepped in and provided the cash. (If anything, I kept wondering about how Brügger acquired all of this wealth… Did the people who funded this film know where their money was going?)
Additionally, some audiences may be put off by Brügger’s morally questionable (and occasionally racist) dialogue; but I think this goes along with the painting of a believable portrait of an ego-maniacal African ambassador. Nonetheless, we are left to question whether or not what Brügger achieves during the running time of The Ambassador is really worth the personal, financial, moral and societal risks taken during the making of this film.
Offensiveness aside, I found a lot of the narrative to be confusing, especially concerning the paperwork for Brügger’s ambassadorship. I realize that the mere act of purchasing an African ambassadorship is probably a very convoluted proposition, but a little more guidance and explanation on Brügger’s behalf might have proven helpful. That said — The Ambassador relishes in Michael Moore by way of Sacha Baron Cohen entertainment value, erring on the side of entertaining non-fiction. The Ambassador may not be the full-immersion investigative journalism piece that it purports to be, but it is damn funny…and really disturbing.
Check out our interview with Mads Brügger.
Check out Linc Leifeste’s review of The Ambassador.