Film Review: ‘The Ambassador’

Docu exposes how easy it is to fake an identity in order to bribe officials and smuggle blood diamonds from central Africa.

The Ambassador

Filmed mostly on hidden cameras, troubling docu “The Ambassador” tracks Danish helmer Mads Brugger (“The Red Chapel”) on a semicomic, semiserious quest to expose how easy it is to fake an identity in order to bribe officials and smuggle blood diamonds from central Africa. Given that Brugger succeeds in exposing corruption that will surprise nobody, questions remain as to what deeper points the pic is trying to make, while the representation of the locals teeters on the edge of racism. However, if auds aren’t troubled by such issues, “The Ambassador” should make diplomatic missions to further fests and TV outlets.


Having shaved his head, donned a flash suit, and adopted “Mads Cortzen” as his alias, Brugger gets down to business in the opening minutes by negotiating with twitchy Liverpuddlian Colin Evans, filmed without Evans’ awareness. Evans represents a company that effectively sells diplomatic passports and status to those planning to do business in countries like the Central African Republic (CAR), where blood diamonds can be bought — the biz Brugger hints to Evans he wants to get into.


Before long, Brugger/Cortzen is in possession of a Liberian diplomatic passport, although the papers that guarantee full diplomatic status remain tantalizingly unobtainable for the remainder of the pic, despite numerous phone calls to fixers and cash bribes transferred via the amusingly titled “envelopes of happiness.” Brugger sets up shop in CAR’s capital, Bangui, and proceeds to oil the wheels of commerce with further envelopes, particularly to government apparatchik Dalkia Gilbert, who conveniently also runs a diamond mine.


Needing a cover story to explain his presence in CAR, Brugger pretends to be setting up a match factory employing pygmies, which at one point occasions a “pygmy party” at a native village. Two stoical, poker-faced pygmies, known only as Albert and Bernard, are employed as his assistants, and eventually Brugger asserts they’re the only locals he feels he can trust, especially when it starts to look like his translator, Paul, is in cahoots with Gilbert.


It soon becomes clear that in this postcolonial economy, nearly everyone is out to rip off everyone else. It’s around this point that the pic seems to be edging into politically incorrect territory as, Albert and Bernard aside, almost every African is represented as buffoonish, venal or both, although to be fair, all the Europeans seem just as morally reprehensible, if not more so. In the end, auds may start to wonder what novel information exactly has been uncovered by this journey into what is, to paraphrase Brugger, Africa’s spleen of darkness.


That said, Brugger ensures it’s a fairly entertaining excursion, especially when he starts to enjoy getting into character as the nefarious white man in Africa. Jaunty tunes from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s give the montages some bounce, adding a layer of cynical irony that’s thrown into even greater relief by occasional moments of real menace and outright danger.


Considering nearly all the footage was shot on hidden mini-DV cameras, lensing looks good on the bigscreen, and editing by Carsten Sosted, Kimmo Taavila and Leif Axel Kjeldsen keeps the narrative flowing smoothly.

Film Review: ‘The Ambassador’

Docu - Denmark

  • Production: A Zentropa Real Aps presentation, in association with New Danish Screen, in co-production with Film i Vast, Zentropa Intl. Sweden. (International sales: Trust Nordisk, Copenhagen.) Produced by Peter Engel, Carsten Holst. Executive producers, Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Peter Garde. Co-producers, Petri Rossi, Peter de Maegd, Madeleine Ekman. Directed by Mads Brugger. Screenplay, Maja Jul Larsen, Brugger.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Johan Stahl Winthereik; editor, Carsten Sosted, Kimmo Taavila, Leif Axel Kjeldsen; music, Niclas Schak, Tin Soheili; sound, Stahl Winthereik; sound designers, Hans Kock, Andreas Kongsgaard Mogensen; supervising sound editor, Lea Korsgaard; line producer, Charlotte Vinther; associate producer, Jonas Bagger. Reviewed at Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (opener), Nov. 20, 2011. Running time: 93 MIN.
  • With: With: Mads Brugger, Eva Jakobsen, Colin Evans, Varney Sherman, Dalkia Gilbert, Albert, Bernard, Paul. (English, French, Danish, Sango dialogue)