Danish journalist/filmmaker Mads Brügger has balls. Big, brassy, swinging balls that were on full display in 2009’s The Red Chapel, where he managed to get himself and a couple of Korean-Danish “comedians” invited to perform in an official capacity in North Korea. You’d think that an experience like this would have tempered the man and taught him to better respect his life, but the bigness and and brassiness of the balls he displays in his latest documentary, The Ambassador, are, in a hyphenated word, jaw-dropping.
Chronicling Brügger’s attempts to secure a diplomatic passport in Africa so he can set up nefarious dealings in blood diamonds, The Ambassador is at once an exposé of everything that is wrong in third world politics and a comedy so absurd that there’s no way it could have been made up. From an obese ex-French Legion Secretary of Security so greasy he seems to sweat Crisco to the alcoholic Pygmies who “always travel in pairs,” the characters and situations Brügger encounters are so over the top that his affected persona of colonial businessman, complete with high riding boots and a cigarette holder, doesn’t seem to cause anyone to bat an eye.
The true genius of the film is the covert footage Brügger manages to get of other “tourist diplomats,” foreign nationals who managed to buy their credentials for as little $135,000. The nonchalant way they talk about navigating the corrupt face of Central African politics manages to chill the blood, almost as much as the constant warnings Brügger receives about what happens to foreigners that don’t abide by the rules or threaten to expose the rotten core of the system. That he continues with his plans, knowing that ending up dead in a ditch is a constant possibility, is both a testament to the size of his balls and his commitment to exposing the truth.
There are moments where Brügger does admit to being less than honorable in his intentions, especially regarding the match factory he pretends to build that gives hope to the citizens of the Central African Republic. When he defends this deception as par for the course for tourist diplomats like the one he is pretending to be, there is a sense of disappointment for the viewer, highlighting the very fine line between exposing the truth and doing what it right.
While certainly not to everyone’s tastes, for those with an interest in gonzo journalism or an unsentimental look at the worst parts of Africa, The Ambassador should be required viewing.