SIFF Film Review – The Ambassador

The Ambassador Movie PosterIt isn’t often that I’m left speechless by a film. If anything, usually I’m eager to discuss and share the movie with other people. Not only was I left speechless by the documentary film The Ambassador, but I’m also unsure of how I feel about it, as I’m still attempting to reconcile what I watched in my mind. I’m already fairly jaded about politicians, but the footage in this movie will raise a lot of questions about how we let politicians work.

The film follows director Mads Brügger as he attempts to purchase an ambassadorship from Liberia so that he can become wealthy as a diplomat to the Central African Republic (CAR). Along the way, he is sidetracked by scam artists, political corruption, and some sketchy diamond mining.

Brügger is an intriguing personality, coming from a background as an entertainer in Denmark. He can be very charming, and it is easy to see how all these people would be sucked into wanting to work with him, despite his slightly unconventional antics. One of the most enthralling elements of the project is that at times it was hard to tell Brügger the filmmaker apart from his political persona. He seemed to be so enticed by the prospects of wealth that the exposé element of the film seemed to fade into the background. But I have to give Brügger a fair amount of credit; the guts necessary to execute a concept like this are staggering to contemplate. He puts himself in many extremely dangerous situations, both through the people he interacts with and the projects he participates in. To nobody’s surprise, there is extensive corruption throughout the government in CAR, but what makes the movie so compelling is the extent of the actions Brügger takes to expose it. The movie raises moral questions such as whether it is okay to commit crimes to expose crimes. Theoretically this is something cops do every day, but it is something entirely different to watch it occur before your eyes, and on the global scale on which Brügger is working, it feels more damaging.

The Ambassador 1

Coming from what seems to be a fairly independent film project, it is pretty amazing to watch the money being thrown around during the film. I’m not sure if it is a deal or not, but apparently an ambassadorship costs about $100,000. Given the ease with which he purchases the ambassadorship, it is amazing to see the many layers of corruption that are necessary to complete the task, which is an ongoing topic during the film as he attempts to finalize his purchase. Besides the privilege of “diplomatic immunity” that Lethal Weapon 2 taught us all about, the benefits of an ambassadorship are extensive. Any positive plans from the politicians are simply smokescreens for their backroom dealings…and it is amazing to watch as Brügger and others knowingly lie to the faces of people who think they they’re being given opportunities. Similarly, it is hard to watch Brügger invest upwards of a million francs into the diamond mining business without changing how you see him, from an artist to a co-conspirator.

I’m not familiar with Brügger’s past work, but I get the impression that this style is his schtick, like a more serious version of Sacha Baron Cohen. His two previous projects, Danes for Bush and The Red Chapel, appear to have a similar ironic style to them, but are focused towards the United States and North Korea, respectively. Given how compelling The Ambassador was, those other projects have quickly jumped to the front of my film queue. He seems like a Dutch version of Michael Moore, someone who puts himself in the middle of the action in his movies as an instigator, but underneath the antics he has a message he’s trying to share.

The Ambassador 2

One of the funniest notions the film raises is about the idea of corruption—many of the politicians expect some sort of compensation for meeting with Brügger, but they draw the line at personally taking the money, because that would make them “dirty.” That is a microcosm of the political world this film displays, as any morality and logic must be thrust out the window in order to succeed. As Brügger makes his way up the political ladder in CAR, it becomes abundantly clear that the corruption is systemic, and there are no honest politicians to be seen…a depressing notion as we prepare ourselves for our own elections.

The most disappointing part of the film is the simply the fact that it has to end. The story is so wild and engaging that when it finally starts wrapping up, you still want to know what happens next. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that Brügger has plenty of other projects left for me to check out.

The Ambassador screens today at SIFF Cinema Uptown and June 3rd at the Harvard Exit.

Final Grade: A-


Spencer was born and raised in New Mexico. He grew up with the many great films of the 1980’s before having his world rocked after seeing The Usual Suspects. He moved to Washington State to go to the University of Washington, and currently any free time he currently has is split between working on film projects and watching films.

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