Title: The Ambassador
Director: Mads Brügger
Starring: Mads Brügger
A wild, darkly comic slice of nonfiction branded “performative journalism” by its creator, “The Ambassador” sets out to expose the corrupt business of selling diplomatic titles to exploit the lucrative natural resources of war-torn third world countries. In the vein of “The Yes Men” or the work of Sacha Baron Cohen, Danish journalist and provocateur Mads Brügger contracts a cultural ambassadorship through a private European broker, then heads to the notoriously corrupt and dangerous Central African Republic to wheel and deal with government officials and black market diamond peddlers.
The results are shocking and unnerving all rolled together. If the Congo is the heart of darkness, then the Central African Republic — a magnet for white men with vague job descriptions and hidden agendas — is its appendix, Brügger asserts, and there seems to be little reason to disagree. Upon arriving, he starts taking (and taping) meetings with all manner of other diplomats and local officials, and quickly becomes privy to the all sorts of back-channel intrigue. He’s warned not to trust cultural ambassadors from the Netherlands and other European countries, because they report back to France, who in turn is in bed with China to exploit vast amounts of mineral deposits.
It’s not merely theoretical cloak-and-dagger fun and games, however. As Brügger sets up a phony front company and delivers various “envelopes of happiness” to grease the wheels of a local miner who promises to provide him with a steady supply of diamonds, the lack of formal paperwork from Liberia (his ostensible host country) endangers his cover. When a governmental head of security with whom he spoke ends up dead, the grim and risky reality of the chess board upon which he’s playing is cast into further relief.
Financed by Lars Von Trier’s production company Zentropa, and released Stateside by Drafthouse Films, “The Ambassador” is a ballsy, attention-grabbing idea, certainly, and engaging and a lot of fun for anyone with an interest in matters geopolitical. Brügger, with his minor affectations — he smokes and wears riding boots to a meeting with local Pygmies — is an amusing guide, and he doesn’t overplay his hand. Still, as it wears on, “The Ambassador” doesn’t drag so much as just lose its head of steam. As the more overtly funny bits of his set-up and entry fade away, and Brügger gets deeper in the weeds, the movie feels like it could benefit from a fresh pair or two of eyes in the editing room. Even as shady contracts are signed, the specifics of his plan and end-game remain a bit hazy, and the film’s conclusion and coda are a comedown from its high-wire heights. Still, this is fairly outrageous activist cinema — undeniably something bold and different.
Written by: Brent Simon