Muckraking ‘The Ambassador’ blends laughter, outrage

“The Ambassador,” which bowed earlier this year at the Seattle International Film Festival, is the kind of tightrope-walking one-man-band documentary that could cause both Michael Moore and Sacha Baron Cohen to turn green with envy. It’s that outrageous.

Hatched by the Danish journalist-filmmaker Mads Brugger, “The Ambassador” follows Brugger as he adopts a fictional persona and drops himself into the sleazy (and quite dangerous) world of illegal gem smuggling out of the Central African Republic.

And the title? Brugger bribes his way into an ambassadorship; once given this special status, he can be assured that if he were to exploit his status to pursue illegal activities such as sneaking diamonds out of Africa, he’ll have a variety of protected ways to do so.

It goes without saying that the Central African Republic is in deep trouble, and wracked with poverty, and that the money being stripped out of its natural resources is not going back to the people. But there’s not a lot new about that story.

What’s new about “The Ambassador” is Brugger’s cheeky method for exposing this corrupt milieu, which steers the project into “Borat” territory. Brugger wallows in portraying an obnoxious Euro-jerk who’s in it for his own gain: He smokes big cigars, tells racist jokes and generally looks like he lives in the bad old days of colonialism.

His plan for the Central African Republic is to build a match factory, which will be staffed by pygmies. Well, of course.

Apparently this is so believable, everybody automatically buys it. Which says something disturbing about the general run of diplomats — if Brugger is credible, how bad must the rest of them be?

Of course, as long as he’s writing checks, people do his bidding, no matter how absurd it sounds, and no matter what the damage to the country might be.

Shot with an unobtrusive small camera (and sometimes with hidden ones), “The Ambassador” looks like a very dangerous stunt. You wonder how Brugger had the nerve to walk into some of these situations, and you marvel that he came out of it intact.

As appallingly funny as much of the film is (and it’s not politically correct, so be advised), the humor cuts deep. Like most good satirists, Brugger has outrage behind his jokes — he wants you to laugh, but he wants us to pay attention, too. Let’s see if his message sticks.

“The Ambassador” (3½ stars)

Danish journalist Mads Brugger does Sacha Baron Cohen one better: In this crazy documentary, Brugger pretends to be an obnoxious, racist diplomat who goes to the ravaged Central African Republic and gets mixed up in illegal gem smuggling. The movie’s outrageously funny, but it also wants to create outrage — and it succeeds on both scores. In English, French and Danish, with English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for language, subject matter.

Showing: SIFF Film Center.

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