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Ambassador, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Third-world exploitation is just a phone call away."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: More than with most documentaries, I find myself in a bind when watching something like "The Ambassador". The part of me that goes to the movies for a good story winds up in conflict with the part that is (hopefully) a decent human being, in that I want events to play out to their logical conclusion even as I'm aware that those are real people on the screen who could either wind up in danger or have their lives ruined. That probably means that the movie is getting its point across, even if the filmmaker doesn't have exactly the material that he may have gone looking for.

The filmmaker, in this case, is Mads Brügger, a Danish television journalist who begins this movie by constructing a new persona: Mads Cortzen, a Danish businessman who aims to become a diplomat to the Central African Republic, from whence he would make the contacts necessary to use his new credentials to smuggle conflict diamonds back to Europe. It turns out that there are actually brokers for that sort of thing; Mads is able to set himself up as a Liberian envoy to the CAR for about $135,000. It is not, however, an entirely smooth operation, and that's not counting what he must do once on the ground.

That corruption is especially rampant throughout less-wealthy nations is something that everybody knows, if only as a vague concept or something read in a news report; it is something else again to see it in action, and Brügger does a good job of presenting that reality to his audience in a simple, unadorned manner. The apparent ease with which one can make these sorts of contacts is saddening, and Brügger deserves respect for putting himself on the line to get the footage.

One does have to wonder, though, if he had to be so Sacha Baron Cohen about it. "Cortzen" is not so broad or far-fetched a character that the audience starts to wonder if things have been staged or looks down upon the people who are taken in, but one does start to wonder if maybe a less broadly-played stereotype would have been more productive. The accouterments like the cigarette holder and mirrored sunglasses worn at all times, along with the slightly patronizing colonial attitude, are believable enough, but the put-on fascination with pygmies isn't quite amusing enough to keep someone from wondering if a little less spectacle might have led to being able to get in deeper and do even more impressive journalism.

(There is, also, the inevitable question of how much is "real" and how much is manufactured, although the two are far from mutually exclusive here. What does "Cortzen's" secretary Maria know, for instance - is she an unwitting pawn or did she sign on with Brügger knowing what his actual goals are? There are bits that can go either way. And while they are making small, easily-concealed HD cameras nowadays, some scenes seem to have peculiarly good coverage.)

The choices Brügger makes are generally effective, though - by the time the movie is over, there's genuine tension over at least his ability to maintain this identity, even if bits of other threads tend to fizzle out. That's inevitable, and certainly preferable to the worst-case scenario, where Mads winds up dead in some African ditch. What he gets makes for an intriguing and educating film, if not quite the amazing and shocking one that the viewer (maybe perversely) hopes for.

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originally posted: 07/21/12 23:52:52
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2012 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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  DVD: 23-Oct-2012



Directed by
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