'Ambassador' Spotlights African Corruption

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Danish filmmaker Mads Brugger posed as a diplomat to document rampant corruption in the Central African Republic. If the way Brugger is acting on camera makes us uncomfortable, the film asks, why aren't we doing more to stop it when it happens on a much larger scale.


Next, we move to African, where a documentary filmmaker figured out how to buy a seat at the table.

Kenneth Turan reviews "The Ambassador."

KENNETH TURAN: Mads Brugger is a Danish documentary director who is part muckraker, part performance artist, a filmmaker guaranteed to enlighten and disturb.


MADS BRUGGER: ...what awaits me is a life where I can operate freely beyond all moral boundaries known to man, while still being a respectable member of society; a life where I can indulge myself in secret state affairs, enjoy red carpet treatment and travel that world with a suitcase full of diamonds. What I'm talking about is, of course, a life as an African diplomat.

TURAN: Brugger wanted to do a film about Africa that avoided the usual topics. He wanted to show the people you don't usually get to see: the players who live a secure and comfortable life. And he wanted to buy illicit stones, mined in combat zones - known as blood diamonds - to show how simple it is to subvert international sanctions against this type of activity.


BRUGGER: A white European with a reason to travel to a diamond-producing country in Africa with diplomatic credentials, I know exactly how valuable it is. Yes.

TURAN: Brugger decided to pay a middleman $135,000 to be a named a Liberian consul and ambassador at large to the Central African Republic. What resulted plays like a bad Graham Greene novel - if the man wrote bad novels. Brugger chose the Central African Republic because he considered it to be unstable, a place he describes in a typical bit of scathing voice-over, as "Jurassic Park" for those who long for Africa of the 1970s.

If Congo was the heart of darkness, this is the appendix. With liberal use of what he calls happiness envelopes, otherwise known as bribes, Brugger finds he can arrange meetings with almost anyone he wants to, and he shamelessly records it all on hidden cameras.

The goal seems to be to get viewers to share the shame of what can happen when corruption is unchecked. If the way Brugger is acting on camera 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.


INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.



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