August 23, 2012
Politically charged documentaries are a dime a dozen. Documentaries of a satirical nature, that also say a great deal about world politics in an informative, engaging, and humorous way are less common. Danish Director Mads Brugger ventures into the territory of political documentary satire, or a political farce, with The Ambassador. Mads opens The Ambassador by stating, "Here ends my life as a Danish journalist." His new life venture is to become an African Diplomat, for bags of diamonds he claims he can smuggle out of his new found country as a Diplomat. His country of choice, thanks to the ease of achieving Diplomat status with the right amount of money, is Liberia. His target is the Central African Republic (CAR), a little known country to the rest of the world but a place full of what Mads wants most: blood diamonds. Mads Brugger uses his style of documentary storytelling that he calls "performative journalism" to share his experience. In performative journalism he creates an "absurd caricature of a corrupt diplomat, with hidden cameras, black-market credentials, and razor-sharp wit." The experiment is a success, to say the least, but not an easy one by any means.
The Ambassador is not a documentary outlining how to become a world-class diamond smuggler by means of Diplomat status. This is merely Mads way of demonstrating the corrupt nature of government institutions, and exposing the ways third-world nations are used for profit by outsiders. The Ambassador is a comedy, set amongst one of the most devastating truths of the current world state. The ridiculous antics of the people involved, the slimy conspirators, and the greed that propagates the entire story of Mads in Africa is humorous, for the mere fact that this is all far too real to be believed as truth. The Ambassador must be a fictionalized accounting of what might go on in a country such as the Central African Republic; for the events to be real would be far too shocking. They are real, as much as events being videotaped can be, and the result is a documentary that elicits great thought. Not to mention guilt over how we, as people of the world, can allow such actions to happen in any place in the world, be it our home or thousands of miles away on another continent.
The greatness of The Ambassador is that it provides facts mingled with the comedic fiction of Mads wanting to legitimately become a Diplomat of Liberia and establish a Match factory in CAR as a front for diamond smuggling. There are interviews with actual government officials that can be proven to be accurate with a quick Google search, for example Minister of Mines Gilbert Dakia and the President of Central African Republic himself François Bozizé. The documentary also demonstrates accurately the difficulty of establishing a business in CAR, do to the unrest and corrupt nature of politics. Even the local diamond miner is a crook, so to speak, but you feel empathetic towards him knowing that he is trying to make a living in a country that does not support their own people. Then again, he is still a crook--but that's just one more thing to laugh about in The Ambassador.
A rising question throughout The Ambassador, how is Mads Brugger financing his exhibition? Thousands of US dollars, British Pounds, and CAR Francs are handed out in "envelopes of happiness"--to outwardly bride an official would be seen as disrespectful. The answer comes in the financial backing of The Amabassador, provided by Lars Von Trier's production company Zentropa (Melancholia, Klown) and The Danish Film Institute. Without this knowledge the documentary does suffer because the viewer is constantly perplexed how a Danish journalist has so much cash-on-hand at any moment; not to mention the fact that he is a documentary filmmaker, a class of filmmaker known for working on small to non-existent budgets. The large amounts of money being tossed around, as contracts are constantly changed and bribes needing to be done daily it would seem, only add to the nonsensical environment that exists in CAR and the institution of buying Diplomat status.
The heartbreaking side of The Ambassador is knowing the truth about the Match factory Mads plans to open in CAR. It will never come to be, even though the people desperately need and want the work and money for their country and livelihood. The looks on the locals faces as they watch a training video is one of deep concentration; they are paying attention and the desire to learn evident. At the same time Mads is poking fun at them, being that they are Pygmy's and as he states, "the best wizards." If the joke is lost here it will not be upon viewing The Ambassador. Mads says a great deal in scenes shown such as these, even when he is interweaving jests at the same time.
While The Ambassador may be touted as a satirical comedy it may not be viewed as such from an outsider who is sensitive to the plight of third-world nations or the native people. The Central African Republic is a country plagued by mayhem, with loose practices of government, violence, and the ease of corruptness present in every possible way. The blood diamonds bring outsiders in, hoping to manipulate a system in order to gain wealth. The Ambassador displays just how this practice is causing irrefutable harm to third-world nations. You may laugh during The Ambassador but it is the heavy emotional toll it leaves on you afterwards that makes it an unforgettable documentary, and a must-see for anyone who wishes to witness a truth that is carefully withheld from the general world populous.
For theatrical release date information visit the official website for The Ambassador at Draft House Films: http://drafthousefilms.com/film/the-ambassador. Mads Brugger will be in Los Angeles on opening day, August 31, 2012, for Q&A sessions at The Cinefamily theatre. More information may be found at The Cinefamily website: Cinefamily, The Ambassador Q&A's and showtimes.