Does the world really need another Morgan Spurlock? With his new documentary The Ambassador, Danish gadfly Mads Brügger (The Red Chapel) is determined to find out. A blackly comic political farce, Brügger's film finds him bribing his way into an appointment as a consul from Liberia, a position from which he is expected and even encouraged by all concerned—from the brokers who sell diplomatic immunity to the highest bidder over the internet to major governmental figures in both Liberia and the Central African Republic—to smuggle "blood diamonds" out of central Africa for great personal profit. Brügger shot his film in English, and he struggles on camera manfully for a sort of verite Borat tone, perhaps in the belief that there's an American audience for this work. There is, but it's a small one—fans of the filmmaker, internationalist viewers with third world sympathies—and even their numbers may be reduced by a movie whose confusing narrative and at times intriguing parts are at war with each other, and never quite gel.
In some critical ways, the flaws here are reminiscent of the disastrous Spurlock film Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?, a similarly callow "Cook's Tour" of third world conflict packed with tongue in cheek encounters between a grinning white celebrity imposter and the unknowing marks he humiliates and skewers for the lens. But give Brügger credit—he's a far more venturesome soul than Spurlock proved to be, careening across the Central African Republic (CAR) like an antic cue ball, interviewing high and highly corrupt government officials with hidden cameras and travelling to remote locales so dangerous his pilot informs him he'll be left behind if he isn't back in two hours, preferably less. Crucially, most of 's targets deserve a lot worse than humiliation. The CAR is shown as an imperialist playground, where a hefty bribe is as much an expected part of a business deal as handing someone your card, and where soldiers of fortune and government officials are indistinguishable figures in a sad farce.
But just as crucially, and despite heavy narration by Brügger, there's also a sense that The Ambassador never quite got the goods. At a climactic moment, the narration simply shrugs and tells us the diamond business is mysterious, something Brügger's pinhole cameras and hidden microphones cued us in to from minute one and then promised to dispel. There are ginned up and very Spurlockian moments of fake drama, where Brügger sweats for his camera in close-ups so close they're worthy of a Sergio Leone movie. Add to this a slurry of monochromatic non sequitur quips—he quotes Patton in a speech to a Pygmy tribe, runs on about Hitler's taste in champagne and lets his African sidekick embarrass himself with idiotic talk about the many funny Hitler stories he believes history contains—and you wind up with a movie that is less the crazed Hunter S. Thompson travelogue it sees itself as and more of a backslapping Hope and Crosby road picture than it wants to be.
Director: Mads Brügger
Producers: Peter Engel, Carsten Holst
Running time: 97 min.
Rating: Unrated, but with descriptions of graphic acts of violence
Release date: TBD