Friday was whizzing by- I had already seen two films as a part of the True/False Film Festival and was excited for the nightcap.
This, of course, is not the normal dinner party nightcap coming in a glass to wind down the night, but as a globally-spanning film that tested journalistic mores and pushed the limits of undercover reporting. It may work well for a dinner theatre, though.
Realizing that it was almost 15 minutes till the film rolling, I quickly threw on my jacket, locked my office door on the MU campus, and imitated a white and slow version of Olympic runner Usain Bolt to get to Jesse Hall across campus for the festival’s first screening of Mads Brugger’s The Ambassador.
Go here for a synopsis and trailer of the film.
Through the door and crowd, handed my ticket to my buddy Tuck who was taking tickets and since I had an extra one I handed that to him for whomever may need it. Then I carefully scanned the back of heads to see if I recognized any woman’s hairstyle or men’s bald spots looking for my friends who I was to meet. Finally, I recognized Ryan Davis and joined a whole row of friends near the front right. The busker band played another couple of songs and then the venue supervisor stepped on stage to introduce the film.
I had known when deciding what $3 tickets to purchase from the campus box office (any film to be shown at the Jesse Auditorium venue had these cheep tickets available to students) that this would be an enlightening and comical portrayal of African politics.
I expected funny and perhaps a bit sad. What we received on the screen was more of a Shakespearean comedy. Truly it was. For the first 45 minutes most of the scenes had a reason to laugh- the situation and interchanges, as well as the editing format, required the audience to laugh. Even when the situation or subject was pitiable, the we were required to laugh.
Brugger enters the film as a guy trying to see how far he can get with a pocket of cash and his clean-shaven Western stereotypes. A pipe is not far from his lips and his knee-high red riding boots give him an air of wealth and import. His aim is to enter into the Central African Republic as a diplomat and do what corrupt diplomats do: trade in diamonds, cause political unrest, rob from the country’s working class.
In fact, he does this excellently. He uses hidden cameras and smooth talking to not simply reveal corruption, because we all know that exists in these blood diamond countries, but to show how one man , yea one white man, can stir the power pot and cause ripples that cause a bit of spillage.
He connected the film on a global perspective, because so much of what Africa does is tied to Europe and now China. He continually narrates the arrows pointing from his start in Spain, then to all the interlocking Bermuda triangles, where within these triangles, reality shifts and morals vanish.
But so much of what he is a part of hits gutterally as if your mind says: “This situation is sad and horrible. I should not be laughing.” But we still laugh. As I mentioned the first half of the film is full of laughter inducers. Then, the film slowly changes. I found myself laughing less and less until the last 15 minutes I did not laugh at all. Brugger powerfully crafts a narrative that opens with humor and ends with reality.
Brugger described his humor in the Q&A as a Swedish idiom that it is required to laugh at the sad or funny things in culture: “There is nothing wrong with Donald Duck, unless he is by himself.” This really portrays well as Brugger, the centerpiece of his film, works his web of magic to create farcical situations that appear faked or improbable except in Hollywood, but actually did happen during his time impersonating a foreign diplomat.
When he walked out on stage following the screening, I realized that this guy was brilliant and an air of amazement floated in the air above the auditorium seats as internally perhaps we all were simply saying in amazement: “Wow, he really got that deep and that far.”
As the credits rolled the audience responded with powerful applause. This was the first American showing of the film, as it has only appeared at a Danish festival last year.
Yes, he received blood diamonds. Yes, he bribed politicians. Yes, he had phony papers. Yes, he lied. Yes, he did all these ‘diplomatic’ things…and we love him for it. Watch it and you will see.