The Ambassador [Blu-ray]

I had no idea that a person could actually go out and buy a Diplomatic status. According to this film, virtually anyone could become an ambassador. Well, not exactly anyone. You do require at least $150,000 to start the process, not to mention the many "envelopes of happiness" that must be discreetly handed to almost everyone involved. As The Ambassador suggests, it does not require much actual work at all in order to enjoy the perks of title and position. Once you have the money thing set up, you can go about your real business, which is to smuggle blood diamonds out of the CAR (Central African Republic) and make billions from your initial investments. This will require you to meet regularly with murderers who are now government department heads. As one broker for diplomatic titles says, "If you listen to us and do exactly what we say, you can become very successful but if you do not, if you go your own way, then the best you can count on, the very best, is that you will be arrested and go to prison. The worst is you end up beheaded and buried in a ditch." Oh, well. No guts no glory, right? At the very least you could become the proud owner/employer of a pair of Pygmy servants. Pygmies, of course, always come in twos.

If that description sends your head spinning then I have succeeded in giving you some sense of what it is like to watch this film. Now, believe it or not, The Ambassador is a documentary. You will not always believe it is real, but supposedly nothing is staged. Truthfully, so much of this film is stranger than fiction that it would require pure writing genius to come up with even a third of what transpires. According to the aptly named director and "star," Mads Brügger, the film merely depicts the truth—a truth that is frightening and absurd at the same time. Honestly, though, the film is as funny as it is terrifying or maybe it is funny because it is so terrifying.

Brügger is sort of a combination of Michael Moore and Sacha Baron Cohen, but with a death wish. He is a documentarian who sets up elaborate and potentially dangerous undercover cons involving himself and a few collaborators to seek out truths that would otherwise be impossible to learn. In this film, Brügger takes on the "role" of Danish businessman and diplomat-wannabe Mads Cortzen and dives all the way into it like an overly eager method actor. He makes a point of wearing expensive riding boots and smoking cigarettes with a fashionable cigarette holder. It all seems too much until you meet his future business partners and realize that everyone seems to be in character.

Even while his diplomatic papers are being prepared, Ambassador Cortzen goes about making as much noise as possible in the region. He wants to meet all the top players so he can set up his business front (a match factory). All of this goes surprisingly smoothly, all except the delivery of his diplomatic status, which day by day hangs over his head like the sword of Damocles. He begins to become quite alarmed at the constant delays and calls for more money, all the time remembering that, "The best you can count on, the very best, is that you will be arrested and go to prison.The worst is you end up beheaded and buried in a ditch."

The debate over what is or isn't real in The Ambassador is quickly forgotten, because the film is so riveting and works on so many levels. It's one part political history, one part travelogue, one part satire, and several parts thriller. Above all it seems to be an accidental character study of Brügger himself, a man who seems to have less fear than most of us. The Ambassador is the sixth movie in the Alamo Drafthouse Films series. Being a shot-on-the-fly, fly on the wall gonzo documentary, the image quality is extremely variable moving from full HD to Standard def camcorders, to cell phone cams and superspy buttonhole cams. The sound is also variable, as it was recorded from any source possible. So, this is a Blu-ray release that is merely released on Blu- ray.

You get nothing more out of the image than the image is able to give and for some totally frustrating reason, Alamo Drafthouse Films has decided to release the film with burned-in English subtitles, which means you can’t turn those subtitles off. In some ways this is good, for instance when the audio is low or when there are other languages spoken besides English. However, most of The Ambassador is shot in perfectly understandable English. So, I spent most of the time being driven mad trying to listen to the audio and being forced (by habit) to read the subtitles in a language I understand.

The one extra on the disc is an audio commentary by Brügger. It is his first commentary, and he seems unsure in his comments. At first, he merely recounts the same things he did as the narrator of the film. Slowly, he settles in and provides many fascinating anecdotes along the lines of Werner Herzog. Particularly interesting is his discussion of specific wardrobe and props, including his cigarette holder and lighter. He talks at some length about his Dupont lighter, which he claims has a clicking sound that appeals to sociopaths. "If you click this lighter open in a bar, you will soon be surrounded by sociopaths," claims Brügger. That commentary’s not something I hear everyday. Is it true? I have no idea--and maybe Brügger doesn't either--but I'll be damned if it wasn't an interesting idea.