Denmark’s fearless Mads Brügger in person with his gonzo documentary. He buys himself a diplomatic post in the Central African Republic and proceeds, envelopes stuffed with cash, to jockey for power and influence.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2012
“What awaits me is a life where I can operate freely beyond all moral boundaries, while still being an acceptable member of society.” And so Mads Brügger begins his hair-raising quest in The Ambassador: to become an African diplomat. To shine a light on this murky world of ‘diplomatic title brokerages’, European operations that trade on the desperation of cash-poor African countries, and on the wider corruption in those states, Brügger ups the ante from his award-winning 2010 documentary The Red Chapel. Then, he sneaked a sham theatre troupe into North Korea. Here he assumes the role of ‘Mr Cortzen’, a wide-boy would-be diamonds trader, and sets about buying himself the position of Liberian honorary consul to the Central African Republic.
Mr Cortzen travels to the capital, Bangui, sets up his hidden cameras, and proceeds, envelopes stuffed with cash, to oil the cogs of state. He successfully seeks counsel from fellow diplomats on how to prosper, offers empty guarantees about building a match factory, and travels to the diamond mines in the northern conflict zones.
There are moments of Borat-like burlesque – Mr Cortzen dancing in his colonial attire with a dozen wine-doused pygmies springs to mind – but even at its funniest this is something altogether more serious. Cross the wrong people and you might just disappear. When questions over his paperwork come to the fore, the stakes are extreme, and it is possible to wonder whether Mr Cortzen remains involved in an act of journalism, or has been swallowed up in the persona. — TM