Movies/Entertainment,  Off the Shelf

Off the Shelf…Drafthouse Films’ ‘The Ambassador’

A surreal and yet gravely realistic fish out of water documentary, The Ambassador offers a look into a part of the world that only a rare but unsavory few can know or comprehend. Posing as a businessman, Brügger attempts to become a foreign diplomat in hopes of exposing the corrupt diamond smuggling and those who live free of moral boundaries in a lawless African state. Yet one thing that needs to be known up front, since it is not explained in the film, is that Mads Brügger is a Danish comedian as well as a filmmaker. That tiny tidbit goes a long way in understanding that there is a hidden hidden agenda behind this entire 93 minute exposé from frame one. The Ambassador, while comic at times, is part rouse, part realistic and all kinds of fascinating.

Using the surname Cortzen, Mads Brügger attempts to infiltrate the Central Africa Republic (CAR) with black market diplomatic papers and then smuggle a suitcase of diamonds out of “a lawless country the size of Texas“. What is perhaps most interesting about Mads’ guerrilla documentary (something he calls “performative journalism“) is that the lines are so blurred. The Ambassador is a bold film with satirical leanings but it doesn’t mean the issues he’s “exposing” aren’t really happening. That’s the real part of it making up 9/10ths of the doc. Using real money he actually purchased the Liberian ambassadorship on the black market. Pretty much the only thing that isn’t real is his persona.

Hearing the words “smuggling”, “diamonds”, and “Africa” one might expect bullets and blood soaked fields like Edward Zwick’s gripping (and yes manipulative) Blood Diamond but The Ambassador takes a less dramatic approach. This world isn’t on the front lines with events likely to make world news. No, it’s about secret closed door meetings and under-the-table dealings that keep the Central African Republic (CAR) crippled, possibly forever beyond repair. In a literal sort of flow chart, in the CAR, power goes to the most ruthless and obviously money buys power. Yet money can’t guarantee anything, only help better your odds in this highly corrupt game. The unsavory allure of a back door path to elite political status succeeds in sucking Mads in like quicksand only to find what fate befell many looking for such a shortcut to status; someone more nefarious or sinister than you has his foot his your forehead pushing you deeper into the quicksand.

Likened to an implied sense of tension you’d find in found footage horror flicks, Mads shocks us with the level of corruption in a makeshift socioeconomic structure rather than any real danger (though not having his papers in order he is, many times, close to some physical danger). Here diplomats are above the law and regulations like customs. Mads boldly embarks on a wild chess game that is as unscrupulous as it is labyrinthine and has his persona “Mr. Cortzen” jumping through every bureaucratic loophole in this lawless state. Mads (trying hard to keep his nerves in check) bribes and charms himself out of harm’s way every step of the game. Like he learns, in the diplomatic world, “if you’re not at the table, you are on the menu” and people are double crossed and killed by the organizations/agencies they are working for. His house of cards keeps falling apart as he tries to build it yet he keeps himself in the game.

Fake companies, hidden agendas, pygmies, politics and a dizzying amount of bribes (called “envelopes of happiness”) are just road marks in Mads Brügger’s efforts to share this doc to the world. Keeping his eye on the end goal he tries to expose all guilty parties while he tries to keep all raised eye brows from asking what a wealthy white businessman is doing representing one African country to another. Not surprisingly, most everyone is blinded by greed and soaked in guilt which makes it hard to paint anyone as the most culpable. After all, the list goes from diamond miners all the way up to the Minster of Defense and The President. This hydra-like black market machine that makes everyone nefariously accountable and poses a question even bigger than the doc: Now that we’ve seen the inside, how can you take down an entire system? In short there is no magic bullet solution.


Provocateur Mads Brügger presents his priceless footage, earned by many a sleepless and sweat-soaked night, and shines a light on a wide range of truly powerful people engaging in criminal activities. Whether or not this will incite a world changing call to action or cause many to answer the cry for help remains to be seen (though it’ll probably knock the wind out of the CAR Board of Tourism). The whole doc might just be summed up by the line from War Games where we can imagine Joshua watch this doc then similarly and fittingly proclaim “Strange game. The only winning move is not to play“. Well, Mads did play and his risky game of chance paid off. Yet despite all the shocking footage that was revealed now the only one who is in the line of fire, bizarrely, is Mads himself. So much for that ascension to the diplomatically untouchable elite.