The Ambassador (2011) Mads Brügger
I don’t normally like this type of documentary that seems like a stunt, but I did like The Ambassador, very much.
The Ambassador is a documentary by Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger, in which he buys diplomatic credentials to become Liberia’s ambassador to the Central African Republic, and goes about setting up a match factory as a front for his efforts to buy blood diamonds. Much of the film is footage from hidden cameras, showing conversations held with various high-level government officials, and the owner of a diamond mine.
I think a key to whether or not you like this film is how fully you buy into the reality of his situation, and whether you think he really would have been in mortal peril if discovered. I, for one, wholeheartedly bought into it; my jaw was dropped throughout with just the wild notion of it all.
As an on-screen presence, Brügger somehow manages to convey the absurdity of the situation while still staying in character. You never forget the precariousness of his situation. There were scenes that were hilarious and also frightening, at the same time.
And as a documentary, it had a lot of ground to cover - a history of the Central African Republic, the business of selling diplomatic credentials, Brügger’s journeys to actually get to the CAR, his experience while there. While it didn’t always succeed (I left with a ton of unanswered questions), I thought it did admirably well. And while the narrative structure didn’t always work, and the temporal switches not always made clear, I chose to read that as mimicking the disorientation of that actual experience.
One of the most interesting things to me, which was really only touched on the surface, was the exploration of what post-colonialism in Africa really looks like today. I would like to watch a whole documentary just exploring that topic.
In a Q&A after the film, Brügger said that putting on that costume every day for two and a half months helped him to stay in character, because he needed to be in character at every moment. And that he thought, what better way to hide than by being overly ostentatious? No one would expect someone dressed so crazy and sticking out like a sore thumb to be doing something like he was. Although I obviously noticed his flashy style, it hadn’t really clicked with me how different and out of place it was, something I’m glad I learned.
#179 - 8/28/2012