Hot Docs 2012: ‘The Ambassador’ a brave, darkly funny exposé

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The Ambassador
Written by Mads Brügger and Maja Jul Larsen
Directed by Mads Brügger
Denmark, 2011

As strange as it might sound to some people, documentary filmmakers are often exceptionally brave individuals. They are people who are at least willing to ask honest, probing questions of their subjects and at most are willing to do it in dangerous, even life-threatening circumstances. In many cases their willingness to document and expose, even at risk to themselves, has defined our perspective and shaped how we see certain issues. In The Ambassador, director and star Mads Brügger puts himself at greater risk, perhaps accidently, then any documentarian I’ve ever seen.

The film explores the idea that anyone can buy a diplomatic title to an impoverished African nation from another impoverished African nation, provided you can get access to the kind of morally bankrupt people you would expect to broker that kind of deal. The reason someone might want to pay exorbitant amounts of money to become the ambassador to somewhere like the Central African Republic is that as an ambassador, you are protected from prosecution should you attempt to smuggle blood diamonds out of the country. Which is exactly what Mads is proposing to do.

Posing as a racist caricature of an “ugly European,” he secretly films dozens of completely candid conversations with C.A.R. officials, diamond miners and the secret powerbrokers of Africa, the contents of which are so transparently illegal and immoral that they are frequently darkly funny and always amazing. As the film continues, you realize what enormous danger Mads is in. He has no real “cover,” no identity anyone would believe except the one he’s created, and the fact that he has filmed all of these incredibly incriminating conversations makes it clear that he will undoubtedly be killed should he be discovered.

As the film goes on, people he speaks to are assassinated, change allegiances and present themselves as increasingly amoral individuals. There are no good people in this story and for believability (and perhaps occasionally humor) Mads affects a thoroughly unlikable , bigoted character that he begins to seem occasionally, if briefly, lost in.

The footage that is not filmed through secret cameras is simply amazing and often looks like a major motion picture. While the images of Mads posing like a 19th century British imperialist are certainly shot with humor in mind, they are always beautifully shot and directed and the quality and technique gives the entire film the air of a narrative drama.

While The Ambassador might be dismissed as a guerrilla comedy film, something akin to a more political Sasha Baron Cohen movie, it is far more than that. Mads Brügger has created a documentary piece that is both an entertaining narrative and an advocacy piece and done it at enormous personal risk to himself. That the film is also funny, beautifully shot and incredible engaging is an amazing achievement.

Michael Waldman

Hot Docs runs from April 26th through May 6th. Visit the official festival website here.

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