THE AMBASSADOR - Central African Republic Diplomacy RevealedSeptember 05, 2012
On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand and from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: THE AMBASSADOR (Drafthouse).
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By Joe Charnitski
One solution would be to hide the cameras. Now no one feels the need to perform, because they are unaware of the audience. And, oh the things people will say when they don’t think they’re being watched. Mads Brügger, described as a filmmaker/journalist/provocateur, employs this very method as he infiltrates a corrupt world of diamond mines, government graft and straight up gangster greed and politics in central Africa.
Brügger’s film, THE AMBASSADOR, reveals the dishonesty and double-dealing that goes into the distribution of phony positions of power in nations we consider “failed states.” Brügger goes undercover as a European consul attempting to acquire an ambassadorship from Liberia so that he can obtain immunity in the Central African Republic (CAR). Once in the CAR he’ll pretend he has an interest in building a match factory (like, you know, matchbooks and flames) but what he truly wants to get his hands on are diamonds, and this wild west outpost of the dark continent has plenty.
To establish his place in the CAR, Brügger amasses a team of malefactors to help set up his fake credentials, convince the local community of his intentions to build the match factory and to connect him to the black market diamond dealers with whom he desires to do business. Brügger is literally and figuratively playing with fire.
Early in the film one of the men who can potentially assist Brügger in getting his fraudulent appointment as ambassador asks him to leave his bag and phone behind as they take a walk. He later confesses that he wanted to make sure their conversation wasn’t recorded. Clearly this guy isn’t aware of the hidden camera, and his confession prepares us for the world of secrets and lies we’re about to visit.
Brügger’s filmmaking style makes the subject matter easily compelling. I saw THE CONSTANT GARDENER too, but this man’s camera is taking me into the real life inner workings of a crooked system feeding off an African society lacking any sense of itself, and desperately in need of an ability to fight off the vultures picking its nation’s bones clean. Think of it as a much sadder version of BORAT.
Beyond the mournfulness you might experience, the film is also successful in creating a genuine tension as Brügger’s charade deepens and his situation grows perilous. Turns out there aren’t a lot of people you can trust in this sort of business. Believe it or not, there is a sense of humor in this doc as well. For example, it twists the iconic Woody Guthrie song “This Land Is Your Land” into an ironic commentary on the kind of thievery Brügger is exposing.
The humor doesn’t hide the reality, though. One of the subjects in Brügger’s hidden camera interviews doesn’t live to see the end of the film. Then, of course, there’s the hopeful people who believe this wealthy European gentleman is about to build a match factory in their community. That means jobs and a better life. If an African community’s dreams come crashing down around them, but no one is there to hear it, did it really happen?
One of the European con men that Brügger attempts to do business with describes the society he operates in as being constructed of an upper world (where regular people work hard and attempt to live a decent life), and under world (consisting of petty criminals) and a back world (where the very influential pull the strings). Only a hidden camera can give us the slightest glimpse of the back world. Brügger can take you there if you’re willing to see what he has to show.
Joe Charnitski is a new contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. His career in film and television production, development and marketing has included stops at Miramax Films, Syfy and VH1. He currently works at a entertainment focused social media marketing agency in New York City. Twitter:@JoeCharnitski
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