In "The Ambassador", documentarist and provocateur Mads Brügger is travelling on a diplomatic passport to the former French colony under the guise of opening a match factory while actually using this privileged position to discover another truth about Africa. The film, which opened last year's IDFA and was selected for Sundance and Hot Docs in Canada, premiered in select US theatres on 29 August.
Most critics are impressed by Brügger's uncompromising style and original character who, in New York Times critic A.O. Scott's words, "might have been dreamed up by Joseph Conrad in collaboration with Sacha Baron Cohen". The reviewers are, however, divided over the ethical consequences: Does "The Ambassador" actually uncover the corruption in Africa, or does it do nothing more than exploit the locals in the name of satire?
Enlightening, disturbing, offending
Karina Longworth from Village Voice is thrilled by Brügger's performance:
"In 'The Ambassador', Mads Brügger – who, as both featured performer in and auteur of films that seek to capture reality through fiction, is sort of the Euro film-festival equivalent of Sacha Baron Cohen, when Cohen was interesting – gives what has to be one of the riskiest and most committed performances of the year." Read review
Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, although critical, is equally taken aback:
"It's not just the filmmaker's audacity that knows no bounds: His political incorrectness and willingness to exploit are similarly unconstrained," writes Turan and concludes: "Part of Brügger's MO in 'The Ambassador' is to get us, in a sense, to share the shame of what can happen when corruption is unchecked. If the way he is acting on film makes us uncomfortable, the film asks, why aren't we doing more to stop it when it happens on a much larger scale? It's a very good question." Read review
On a similar note, A.O. Scott of New York Times writes:
"'The Ambassador' is both a satire of European cynicism and an exposé of African corruption, but a crucial element of social or ethical concern is missing." But, Scott continues, "Mr. Brugger's portrait of shameless, routine collusion between exploitative foreigners and dysfunctional dictatorships is depressing and undeniable." Read review
Chris Cabin from Slant Magazine has little sympathy for Brügger's methods:
"There's no fire in Brügger's belly, or at least any perceivable fire. It tempers the politics down, for better or worse, and makes 'The Ambassador' more of a lopsided, if irrefutably involving, act of gonzo reportage, part absurdist how-to guide on becoming a diamond smuggler, part outsider tour of a truly lawless land infested with poverty and incessant corruption." Read review
Eric Kohn from IndieWire finds the film equally problematic, but also informative in its exposure of a corrupt industry:
Brügger's "unfettered access to the blood diamond industry, often captured with mini-cameras hidden in the crevices of the rooms where his business deals take place, brilliantly pulls back the careful veil of legitimacy that diamond smugglers use to cover their uncouth intentions (...) If he's a victim of his own vitriol, he still gets the point across: When it takes subversive mockery to show the truth, the system is seriously fucked." Read review
The film is distributed by Drafthouse Films in the US, where it plays in select theaters and is available on VOD. International sales are handled by TrustNordisk.
"The Ambassador" is produced by Peter Engel and Carsten Holst for Zentropa with support from the Danish Film Institute.