Review | "The Ambassador"
In his latest film, The Ambassador, Brügger turns his focus away from the reclusive nation of North Korea to the arguably even more dangerous Central African Republic, a mostly lawless former French territory that serves as a stomping ground for all sorts of shady types looking to make a killing (literally) in the diamond industry.
Armed with authentic Liberian diplomatic credentials (a feat that has landed him in hot water with the Liberian government and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, despite the fact that she signed them herself), Brügger headed down to the CAR to get his hands on some of Africa's infamous blood diamonds. The result is something both fascinating and frustrating; a complex and at times muddled series of back room deals and suspicious characters who rarely if ever know they are under the ever watchful eye of Brügger's cameras.
|Mr. Cortzen is appointed ambassador by Liberia's Foreign Minister, Toga McIntosh.
The biggest problem with all of this is that while Brügger may be exposing rampant corruption and underhanded dealings, he is also engaging in those behaviors himself. The project, which was funded by the Danish Film Institute, actually funneled money to crooks by paying out millions to purchase Brügger's diplomatic credentials while lining the pockets of corrupt officials with "envelopes of happiness" filled with money in order to procure the diamonds. While Brügger ended up selling the diamonds and donating all the proceeds to the Pygmy village to whom he promised employment in his nonexistent match factory, it's nearly impossible not to wince when you think about where the money he had previously spent actually ended up.
|Brügger's Liberian diplomatic credentials, signed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
You have to respect him as a filmmaker. He's clearly a fearless (and, one could argue, reckless) muckracker with bigger cajones than Michael Moore could ever hope to have. But The Ambassador is in bad need of streamlining. Sure the covert nature of the filming doesn't exactly lend itself to a cohesive flow, but Brügger's construction doesn't help the already convoluted message surrounding his outlandish stunt. What is clear is that the Central African Republic is a dangerous place, and that many loopholes exist for unscrupulous Westerners to exploit the unstable remnants of post-colonial Africa. Already Liberia has set about trying to close some of those loopholes (while pursuing "hey you're missing the point" legal action against Brügger) so the film has clearly had an effect. But at what cost? They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And in this case you have to wonder just which road Brügger is on.
GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)
THE AMBASSADOR | Directed by Mads Brügger | Not rated | Opens Wednesday, August 29, in NYC. Friday, August 31st, in Los Angeles.