Danish reporter Mads Brügger purchases a diplomatic passport on the internet. The document will open even the most sealed and secret doors when its owner arrives in the Central African Republic. His goal is to gain access to the country’s diamond reserves under the guise of opening a match factory. No one can know that the fake diplomat is actually trying to uncover corruption and greed for power in the former French colonial government.
Mads Brügger is the closest to a fashionable buzz word in radical yet mainstream documentary these years. Amongst many other things he created the TV series Danes for Bush (2004) and the documentary The Red Chapel (TV series in 2006 and a feature documentary in 2010). Both projects illustrate Brügger’s unconventional methods. He often takes on a fictional role in order to enter environments and get the stories he is after. In Danes for Bush he teamed up with artist Jakob Boeskov and the two of them declared themselves radical Danish supporters of George Bush travelling the US while Brügger in The Red Chapel, under cover of being part of a theatre group, entered North Korea and managed to stage an ironic and subtly critical comedy show.
«he comes up with very little new or thought- provoking material»
Brügger’s new documentary is called The Ambassador. And the ambassador is of course Mads Brügger himself who by bribing, cheating, parroting and charming his way into the diplomatic circles of the Central African Republic tries to reveal the hidden agendas and corruption that are closely tied to diplomatic activities.
Brügger has stated that his main purpose is to knock down some of the prejudices about Africa and the visual clichés such as the colourful clothes, the starving babies with big tummies, the dust, the huts and the Masai. And Brügger is right about that. There has been too many visual clichés in the media depiction of Africa. But Brügger makes a big mistake in my view. In The Ambassador he uses just as many visual clichés as the ones connected to “poor Africa”. Instead of choosing the “poor and sad” perspective, Brügger find his clichés in the ‘crazy and corrupt’ perspective and these clichés are just as tiresome and useless as the “poor” clichés. In The Ambassador we have countless images of Brügger dressed in diplomatic clichéd clothes such as a white suit, leather riding boots and sunglasses, smoking the clichéd cigar, talking clichéd business talk to local business partners, sipping drinks at dinner parties and admiring old African leaders such as Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa. I have a very hard time finding any substance in all of this. Most of all the film feels like Brügger’s wet dream of going into a novel by Graham Greene and playing the protagonist himself.
The Ambassador is more closely related to mockumentaries such as Bruno and Borat than with investigative reporting and yet Brügger tries so hard to find something corrupt and illegal worthy of exposing to the public. I am not saying that Brügger does not get any messages through the cinema screen. He does illustrate how business and the diplomatic system are connected and sometimes in negative ways and how easily (with the right amount of cash) one can enter this cynical game. But when one considers how much money and much time Brügger has had to dig deep into the connections of the African diplomatic system, he comes up with very little new or thought-provoking material. It is possible that thorough traditional investigative journalism can be boring to follow in its process but at least most investigative journalism has something to expose.
The Ambassador has not but the film itself seems to think otherwise. It really feels like the emperor’s new clothes while you sit there in the cinema just waiting for someone to stand up and shout: “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” In trying to criticize the system, Brügger becomes part of the system itself and helps it to continue. In an ethically problematic way, Brügger creates false hopes in the hearts and minds of the local population who really believe the strange, white man has come to their country to open a factory. As stated earlier Brügger seems to have two main objectives with his film. He certainly wants to entertain us but he also wants the entertainment to go a step further and expose some significant information about post-colonial Africa which might not be so postcolonial after all. Brügger does not succeed in the latter and I am not so sure he succeeds in the former either. His somewhat arrogant and self-appreciative personality becomes an obstacle for the film.
«he uses just as many visual clichés as the ones connected to “poor africa»
There is some irony for sure – but Brügger also seems to enjoy his identity as a fake diplomat and while there is absolutely nothing wrong in hedonism and enjoyment, in The Ambassador it becomes quite uninteresting and tedious to observe Brügger meeting with yet another diplomat with little on his mind. The film drags along – while editing, voiceover and the personality of the protagonist try to suggest to us that things are really so exciting and just about to explode. Strangeness is applied in a very deliberate manner as if to cover up the lack of real content. But when push comes to shove, very little happens. And the film’s ending is very illustrative of this: suddenly all action stops. Brügger doesn’t want to play the game any longer. Not because he has succeeded in his exposé. Not because it has become too dangerous for him to fake it much longer. No, he seems to stop the film only because he himself has become bored with his African life and wants to play somebody else now.