By Linc Leifeste | August 31, 2012
Director: Mads Brügger
Writers: Mads Brügger, Maja Jul Larsen
Starring: Mads Brügger
The Ambassador is a documentary film that will dumbfound you, fill you with an overpowering sense of incredulity, and uncomfortably take you far away from your daily ordered existence. Danish documentary filmmaker Mads Brügger, much as with his last film The Red Chapel, goes undercover to infiltrate an unwelcoming and nearly unbelievable foreign country. Last time around it was Kim Jong-il’s North Korea, this time it’s the chaotic Central African Republic, a landlocked former French colony that is rich in natural resources but poverty-ridden. It’s a place that Brügger describes thusly: “If Congo was the heart of darkness, this is the appendix.” This is a place where the adventurous rich and powerful come to game a willing system that bestows wealth on the greedy off the backs of the poor.
Brügger’s entry into the Central African Republic comes via the shady world of diplomatic title brokerages, firms that allow people with the money and desire to purchase the credentials of an ambassador. Using a hidden camera and with a will of iron, we see Brügger interact with two different brokers in his quest to become the Liberian ambassador to the Central African Republic. Amazingly, it’s not long until his dreams are achieved, the ambassadorship coming with an honorary MBA from Monrovia University and a Liberian driver’s license thrown in for good measure.
Why in the world would someone want to do something like that, you might ask? Well, keep in mind that ambassadors are allowed to walk around with unlimited amounts of cash in their briefcases and enter the airport and get on a plane without being searched. So it’s not a problem to fly out of the country with money or diamonds. Under the impression that smugglers should always have a cover, Brügger immerses himself in the part by going through the motions of establishing a match-making factory.
The details and timeline of the story are a bit hard to decipher at times, a situation that could have been improved with a bit more expository narration, but suffice it to say that Brügger is wildly successful at rubbing shoulders with some powerful and corrupt figures in the Central African Republic and captures it all on camera by having his cinematographer pose as an assistant using a camera that by all appearances shoots still photographs.
Brügger is a delight to behold, in his flamboyant costumes and all his political incorrectness, handing out endless cash-filled “envelopes of happiness” to secure the favors of those he comes in contact with. This is a film that’s revelatory and bold on a scale you don’t often see and even more than with The Red Chapel, the viewer has the the breathless sense of Brügger being in constant danger of real physical harm with any misstep.
But don’t worry, Brügger pulls it off. I was lucky enough to attend a double feature screening of The Ambassador and The Red Chapel at the Alamo Drafthouse with the director in attendance, featuring a Q & A with him and Alamo founder Tim League.