What could potentially have been one of the most unique documentaries of this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival becomes an offensive and uncomfortable exercise in unethical journalism in The Ambassador.
The film records an undercover investigation by European journalist Mads Brugger in which he poses as Central African ambassador. As he does so, Brugger records his secret conversations with colleagues, covert deals with government and business meetings involving the acquisition of blood diamonds, illuminating the corrupt world that exists within diplomats’ expensive private suites.
The fundamental problem with The Ambassador doesn’t not lie in its subject matter, however, which at its best is an illuminating portrait into the immoral behavior and corrupt deals ambassadors make every day. The problem instead lies in its journalism.
Brugger’s undercover operation, for example, requires that he partake in the same actions as his diplomatic colleagues in order to not blow his cover. He is therefore often seen bribing officials with millions of francs, being escorting to places where young children are forced into manual labor and pretending to establish a match factory that would potentially help the suffering pygmy population but is in fact just a way for to not draw attention from a diplomat’s real business: Blood diamonds.
All of this leaves a sour taste in your mouth as you watch Mads giving false hope to the disadvantaged and turning a blind eye to such awful cruelty happening right in front of him all for the sake of a documentary. He explains in one instance of voiceover narration that he had to “play the game” that his colleagues do and while he may have exploited the poor others do it more drequently and on a larger scale. Apologies, Mads, but you can take your pathetic justifcation and fuck right off. If this were an undercover operation into the KKK would he simply wave off racial abuse as “playing the game”? Or would he rely on this excuse that others did it worse if he were exploiting sex slaves in an undercover operation into human trafficking?
And worst of all is that the end in no way justifies the suffering Brugger inflicted on the harmless souls who believed he was providing a better life for them nor the bribing of powerful people with money that would save countless Africans from poverty, disease and famine. After all, what The Ambassador shows us at the end of the day is simply that African politics is often corrupt and diplomats have links to the blood diamond trade. Well done, there, Captain Obvious.
Because nothing that Mads Brugger exposes could not have been achieved without the harmful masquerade he performs, it makes his documentary appear narcissistic. As he parades around in an attire almost akin to a Bond villain with a cigar always hanging out of his lips, he seems less interested in exposing the dark secrets lurking in the world of Central African diplomacy and more interested in soaking up the spotlight. And one must wonder if this is why he never stopped to consider whether what he was doing was morally incorrect; because he was too busy enjoying his 15 minutes of fame as both the mischievous star of the film and darling of Africa’s most rich and powerful.
Of course, there are shocks and surprises that are revealed in The Ambassador, but as I walked out of the press screening I couldn’t shake the image of the film’s two pygmy workers from my mind. Good-hearted people who threw a party for the film’s star, spirited people who developed a skills for making matches so that their new factory could help keep their families alive and honest people whose hope and trust were destroyed for an egotistical undercover operation of which they will never see the benefit of this unethical, morally bankrupt film.