The Ambassador’s target is the government corruption surrounding the black market export of blood diamonds, and it contains some frightening revelations. The Ambassador is also a harrowing story about the risks undertaken by the filmmakers. While entertaining and educational, this film never seems know if it’s a story about blood diamond corruption or the filmmakers themselves.
Labeled as a, “filmmaker/journalist/provocateur,” the film’s director and star is Danish film and television personality Mads Brügger (The Red Chapel). The central idea is that Brügger poses as a businessman interested in becoming an African diplomat with nefarious intentions. After purchasing a diplomatic title from Liberia, he proceeds to the Central African Republic to start a match factory with a little diamond smuggling on the side. We then proceed to see if diamond smuggling is really as easy as it seems.
Yes, the filmmaker’s conceit gives the film a darkly humorous edge. In the pursuit of the story, their unique position allows them to directly poke fun at some truly dangerous thugocrats. The problem is that sometimes the shocking revelations play second banana to the charade. More to the point, there is a creepy implication that Brügger’s ruse is actually helping drive the very activities he is setting out to expose.
Taking a cue from Sacha Baron Cohen, Brügger pretends to be a boorish Danish businessman who refers to himself as an, “albino African,” and toasts business agreements with Hitler anecdotes. His portrayal of an avarice-riddled knob in the middle of an avarice-riddled land is convincing, but unfortunately never as funny as Borat. Often the dangerousness of the subjects swallows up the laughs. Perhaps inadvertently, this humor occasionally seems to mock the victims of criminal acts.
Maybe I just don’t have the right sense of humor.
In Brügger’s defense, he may not have had a choice. Once he started down this path, if he broke character, we are given the impression that both he and his crew could have been killed. One of his interview subjects was murdered during filming, and more than once he seems to be entering into deals with people who could just as easily shoot him as bargain with him. Also, some of the more damming undercover footage may have come out because the cloddish facade may have allowed subjects to feel free to be themselves.
On the other hand, perhaps this information could have been uncovered differently. At times, the information presented is jumbled and awkward. The bullet points get hit, but the fine detail is blurred. I fear some of this detail was lost in an effort to be funny.
All of this brings me to one big moral issue I have with The Ambassador. Even though it was all pretend, Brügger appears to funnel a fair amount of money into the hands of dangerous criminals. He buys an illicit diplomatic title. He also enters into an illegal contract with a man who deals in blood diamonds and perhaps even takes women as payment. I suppose there are no strict “rules” for making a documentary, but it seems like this documentary may have helped contribute to the damage it was designed to expose.
Was this film worth the potential damage it may have caused? Could this information have been revealed in a compelling manner without the goofy subterfuge? I don’t know. Perhaps this story is bigger than the ethical issues it raises.
Already seen by film festival crowds who have labeled it, “shocking,” “provocative,” and “ballsy,” I wouldn’t deny that The Ambassador is any of these things. It is an interesting film – yet it’s also an incomplete documentary. Of the many questions it prompts, some of the biggest ethical issues seem to involve the filmmakers themselves.