The Ambassador – Movie Review

A hilarious, courageous and fascinating trip into the soft underbelly of back market African politics.

Mads Brügger is at it again, pushing his way into the elite diplomatic circles of the world in an attempt to, as he puts it, “Get my hands on a lot of diamonds.” His mission was in the Central African Republic, a place where many diamonds are mined and many Westerners are fleeced. Although CAR is considered a failed state by many, Brugger does not consider it one. This is because in order to be a failed state, a country must have had some kind of working government to start with. In the case of CAR, it is not a failed state because there is little evidence it was a working state to begin with.

Which brings us to the need for diplomatic credentials. With diplomatic protection, a person could take cheap and abundant diamonds out of the country with little or no trouble. Without such protection, diplomatic credential consultant Colin Evans indicates there are two possible outcomes. The best case is the diamond entrepreneur ends up in an African prison. The worst case is, well, you know.

This is a real life spy film. The secret videos are real. However, the beauty of the movie lies in the incidental truths uncovered along the way. Failing to do business with the Evans Brothers consultancy, Brugger moves on to Wilhelm Sissen, a man with connections in Liberia, a country reputed to have issued some 2500 diplomatic passports in the 1990’s. That is a lot of diplomatic representation for a country that was a genuine failed state at the time. Many of the passports were issued to people with criminal records.

Now that Liberia has emerged from its vicious and tragic civil war, the country is being run by many people who were identified by the UN as, well, people whose actions during the war did not reflect completely ethical and moral motives. Liberia looked like a definite possibility for a purchased ambassadorship. Sissen quoted the business class package: $135,000 buys a diplomatic passport, ambassadorial appointment papers, a Liberian driver’s license and even an honorary MBA from the University of Liberia. More straightforward Evans said the appointment, as an ambassador alone, with full protection to travel in and out of the CAR, would sell immediately for a million Euros, if such a thing were available.

Having what he thought were credentials, Brugger set off for CAR where he set up a fictitious match factory project and the rest is, well, you have to see the film. Mr. Brügger was generous enough to grant a phone interview and shed further light on the periphery of this delicious doc:

RW: To ask the obvious question, were those secret videos for real? In particular, the video of the CAR security chief taken through what looked like a hole in a gym bag did not look very well concealed.

MB: The secret videos are for real, as are the overt videos. All of the subjects are real people with real titles and official standings. For the overt videos, the camera operator was explained as Brugger’s press officer. The camera used, a Canon EOS, looks exactly like a still picture 35 mm, but, of course, takes great video footage. The subject thought Brugger had set up a still picture when he was actually recording footage and sound. The covert recordings were made with a Contour mono-cam hidden in a flower vase and/or a book. CAR security chief Guy-Jeane le Foll Yamande was intellectual, very charming and very knowledgeable about minute details of the African underworld (As the film explains, he was murdered in an apparently state-ordered execution a few months after he appeared in the film. There is not necessarily a connection; his predecessor was poisoned two years earlier).

RW: At the end of the film, you appeared to end up with many diamonds, but were apprehensive about taking them out of the country. What happened to the diamonds?

MB: I decided not to try to get the diamonds out of the country. So, I showed the diamonds to some diamond dealers in Bangui and sold them there. It was a buyers’ market and the diamonds did not raise much money. I gave the money to the pygmies so they could incorporate the match factory that was the original cover for the diamond operation. As it turned out, I would have been able to take the diamonds out, if I had wanted to. When I left, the Mining Police met me at the airport. Knowing I had been to diamond mining areas, they jokingly asked me how many carats I was carrying, but did not open my attaché case. Apparently, my diplomatic status worked.

RW: Your assistant, Maria, became quite animated in opposing taking the diamonds out. Was she your partner in making the film from the beginning?

MB: Maria was also the production manager for the film, so she was part of the film from the beginning. She was not acting; she was really frustrated at the obvious lies of Dalkia Gilbert, my business partner. She could not stand Gilbert and the working conditions at the mines. Gilbert married his wife at what would have been a very young age. Apparently, she was being held at the mine as some sort of hostage to ensure Gilbert’s loyalty.

RW: The film featured interviews, most clandestinely recorded, of officials Varney Sherman of Liberia, National Chairman of the ruling Unity party, Pankaj Tewani, Indian Consul in Bangui, Gaston Mackouzangba, Minister of Civil Services in Bangui (CAR), Dr. Toga McIntosh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Liberia and Cocksis Willibona, CAR president Bozize’s cousin. Have you heard from any of the officials since you left Africa?

MB: I have heard, indirectly, from Varney Sherman, who is very angry. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf wants me arrested. She is using me to avert attention away from the corruption charges that are dogging her administration. Wilhelm Sisson, the diplomatic credential broker, is trying to rewrite the story as a misunderstanding.

RW: The film ends with the celebration of honor, presumably regarding your diplomatic credentials. Did you ever get them?

MB: Yes, I received an official appointment as a Liberian ambassador, signed by Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf. Also, I received an appointment letter from Dr. Toga McIntosh.

RW: Do you plan to go back to Liberia or CAR someday?

MB: No. Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf wants to have me arrested. The CAR is not part of my travel plans, either.

RW: At one point in the film, you are shown reading the “Liberian Diplomatic Handbook.” Is that book a real publication? Sort of a do-it-yourself book for diplomats?

MB: Yes, I bought it on Amazon. I have no idea why it was written (RW note: The book is $149 in paperback form, 300 pp. Buy it today and become an ambassador in your own home!).

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Directed by: Mads Brügger
Written by: Maja Jul Larsen and Mads Brügger (original idea by Mads Brügger)
Featuring: Mads Brügger
Release Date: August 31, 2012
MPAA: Not Rated
Run Time: 93 minutes
Country: Denmark
Language: Danish / English / French with English subtitles
Color: Color