The Ambassador deliberately confuses fact and fiction
A documentary by Mads Brügger. In English, French, and Danish with English subtitles. Unrated. Opens Friday, November 23, at the Vancity Theatre
In Red Chapel, Mads Brügger’s previous assault on traditional documentary form, the Danish director accompanied a couple of notably unfunny comedians to North Korea as part of a semibogus cultural exchange. The real purpose of the visit was to expose the most extreme outrages of the world's most peculiar political regime. The fact that Jacob Nossell, one half of the visiting theatrical troupe, suffered from disabilities that would have condemned him to death at birth in North Korea was anything but coincidental. The more unsettling a detail is, the more mercilessly Brügger flogs it.
In The Ambassador, the director deliberately steps into harm’s way himself. This time around, the target is blood diamonds, failed states, and corrupt political practice in the poorest parts of Africa. For a relative pittance, the filmmaker purchases documents that let him pass as Liberian ambassador to the Central African Republic. The economic pretence behind his mission is to construct a match factory staffed entirely by pygmies. In reality, the whole enterprise is really about money changing hands for no good reason, a high-stakes poker game that occasionally results in death. Because Brügger's own documentation is somewhat less than bulletproof, his personal longevity becomes something of an issue. As time passes, the tension mounts.
In many respects, The Ambassador unfolds like a later Graham Greene novel reconfigured as a reality-TV show. The knowledge that a nasty lawsuit hovers over the film only adds to the deliberate confusion between fact and fiction. What motivates Brügger to make movies of this kind remains something of a mystery. That they are creepily fascinating, however, is beyond dispute.
Watch the trailer for The Ambassador.