Starring Mads Brügger. Written by Mads Brügger, Maja Jul Larsen. Directed by Mads Brügger. PG. 93 min. Opens Jan. 11 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
There’s a kamikaze quality to Mads Brügger’s documentary-comedies: It seems like the Danish muckraker could crash and burn at any moment. In The Red Chapel (2010), Brügger infiltrated North Korea by impersonating a buffoonish theatre director. In The Ambassador, he assumes the titular role as the “Liberian Consul to the Central African Republic.” Armed with an expensive, illegally obtained diplomatic visa (whose seller is unaware that he’s being filmed) and no small amount of cojones, Brügger decamps to the C.A.R. in character with an eye towards smuggling out some blood diamonds.
That character is a flamboyant, colonially minded racist, and he’s pretty funny. Brügger is a fearless performer who has been compared to Sacha Baron Cohen, and he has a Borat-like knack for suckering the politicians and business types that he meets into acting like idiots—and occasionally monsters—for the camera. The problem is that in order to keep up appearances, he also dupes some people who appear to be wholly innocent, including a tribe of Pygmies to whom he offers jobs in a fictitious factory. The way Brügger treats these contacts as straight men in his comic performance borders on racist, though like so many other offensive things in the movie, he’d likely claim that it’s in the service of a satirical point.
Brügger’s deeply unethical conduct—including the bribing of government employees—is clearly a reaction to the deeply corrupt environment he finds himself in. He’s seeing what he can get away with. But while The Ambassador succeeds in putting names and faces to the problems of greed and graft, it doesn’t do much to explore their root causes. For all of its startling and hilarious moments, the film is as much an act of exhibitionism as an exposé.