LIFF26 - The Ambassador - Cinema Review

'Rarely do documentaries feel so revelatory, or so dangerous.'

In a year where Sacha Baron Cohen has dressed up and played make-believe as a foreign dictator  it is refreshing and exhilarating to see Danish journalist Mads Brügger dressing up and playing a foreign diplomat for real, with noble documentarian aims. Brügger sets out in The Ambassador ostensibly to uncover some form of the truth behind the corruption that still exists in certain parts of Africa, deciding that the only way to do so is to become that very corruption. Within the film's opening twenty minutes or so Brügger, a white Dane, secures for himself the position of Liberian ambassador to the Central African Republic (CAR).

Inherent in his methods are certain levels of ethical uncertainty which have strongly turned others away from The Ambassador. Without a doubt these issues do exist. Brügger pumps money into a system he has shown to be corrupt, gives false hope to members of the CAR public and fails to explain at the end of the film what he does with material gains he receives from his experiment. There is plenty here to critique Brügger over and his methods are undoubtedly controversial.

But those very methods allow him to produce a film which gets closer to its subject than many, many documentaries, particularly when the topic is so fraught and the locale so dangerous. Brügger hits at the very heart of the corrupt system, because those who perpetrate the evils completely believe that he is one of them. The journalist's methods are unique, and uniquely risky, but the end product they produce is revelatory and consistently, grimly amazing.

There are obviously question marks over how many times Brügger can get away with doing this sort of film before he starts to be recognised and/or his game rumbled. Certainly there may be question marks over how long he wants to continue pursuing such topics, given that, by the end of the film, at least two of the major players he features are killed in mysterious circumstances. If he can bring this level of access and insight though then there should be campaigns for him to carry on. Rarely do documentaries feel so revelatory, or so dangerous.

The Ambassador plays LIFF26 again on Wednesday 14th November, 17.00, Townhall 2.

The 26th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 1st November to 18th November at venues around the city. Programming includes several UK premières, the popular Night Of and Day Of The Dead and a selection of competition films in the Official Selection.

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