- Niki Boyle
- 22 June 2012
Intriguing exposé on corruption in African business and politics
The Ambassador follows Danish documentarian Mads Brügger as he navigates his way through the blood diamond trade and the political systems that facilitate it. After purchasing a diplomatic passport declaring him an ambassador for the West African nation of Liberia, he travels to the Central African Republic, ostensibly to build a match factory and employ local workers, but really to connect with diamond mine owner Dalkia Gilbert. Through his dealings with politicians and businessmen in both countries, Brügger exposes startling levels of corruption and deceit.
That Brügger never breaks out of his ambassadorial character is both the film’s core strength and its only weakness. By refusing to comment personally on the scenes taking place, he avoids any Michael Moore-ish grandstanding or emotional manipulation. On the other hand, his persona is so intentionally blank – to reflect the worst traits of those around him – that the film lacks a central anchor. Brügger works on several levels at once: exposing the behind-the-scenes machinations involved in securing his diplomatic papers, negotiating the establishment of his fictional match factory and dealing with the none-more-slippery Gilbert – and the absence of a strong central figure means he occasionally struggles to keep all his plates spinning smoothly.
That being said, the hidden camera footage he captures speaks volumes, and even in character Brügger is capable of displaying flashes of ironic wit. See his discussions with native political fixer Paul about making a real difference: ‘I don’t want to be an air guitar diplomat.’ Or his visit to a Pygmy village to source employees for his match factory, and their subsequent celebrations: ‘This is what the NGOs don’t understand – you can have fun in Africa.’ The only time he voices any personal opinion is to express regret at providing his prospective employees with false hope for their new jobs, but he swiftly retreats back under his diplomatic guise, explaining that in these countries, such disappointments are just another fact of life.
Showing at Edinburgh International Film Festival, Sun 24 & Mon 25 Jun.