Sundance Journal: ‘The Ambassador’

Have you ever come out of a movie thinking, “So, what was the point of that?” That’s exactly what I asked my film critic friend after we got out of ‘The Ambassador’.

The documentary starts out promising. It seems to be an evocative hidden camera investigation about how frighteningly easy it is to become an international diplomat. Why would someone want to do this? Well, to be able to smuggle money and blood diamonds out of Africa without anyone checking their bags. Seems like an interesting premise, right? According to the movie, one can purchase diplomatic papers and the coveted immunity that comes along with them from people of ill repute who may or may not have connections to terrorists and mercenaries.

A Danish journalist tries to figure out just how easy it may be to become a diplomat. Everything goes swimmingly until he runs into bureaucracy. No matter where you are in the world, even in the Central African Republic, bureaucracy always daunting and impenetrable. Still, he plays the part, meets with high ranking officials and tries to get a foothold in the political landscape. All so he can smuggle diamonds out of the country. And then… nothing.

Literally.

Here’s a documentary with no end. It has no payoff whatsoever. We spend all this time with this guy wondering what will become of him trying to smuggle blood diamonds, and then at the end he leaves us in the dark. Essentially, the movie builds upon itself incessantly until it unavoidably collapses from its own weight. What a waste of time.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

5 comments

  1. Martin

    Have you ever come out of a movie thinking, “So, what was the point of that?”

    Yes, every time i watch a David Lynch movie.

  2. Atrebla

    Alternate review: As a documentary enthusiast, we often like to think we are doing amazing work making or watching docs that have the top statistics and talking heads – or engaging the ‘chicken little’ syndrome. This film is a deep sociological study, mixed with humor, suspense, and the amazing access to places no conventional documentary could go. If one does understand this film, then I would blame his or her lack of knowledge about imperialism, colonialism, race, and hegemony more than the director. That was an AMAZING portrayal of ‘corruption’ in the CAR, and other countries in Africa. It shows us that such corruption was TAUGHT by the colonial countries, and that they and their own citizens have a huge part in promulgating this corruption we so often blame only black Africans for. The director was daring, smart, and brilliant in his ability to pull of all of the things he did to get access to the people he did – while putting his life on the line. What would I change? I would include that he immediately sold all blood diamonds to a local diamond buyer, and gave the money to the Pygmie community to open the match factory. I would include that Tjissen (the consulate broker in Portugal) worked hard to stop the showing of the film, and is still threatening with a lawsuit.

    • Aaron Peck
      Author

      That’s a whole lot of assuming when it comes to what he actually did with the diamonds. I agree that the subject is fascinating, but the way this doc is constructed makes it seem mundane and not nearly as dangerous as you’re making it out to be.

  3. Phyllis

    I was really blown away by this film. I think the filmmaker was just as dishonest as the African people he was trying to expose. People were trusting him and believing in him and he was deceiving them throughout the film. The Pygmies were trusting him to help them start a match factory and he knew no factory would ever be started. I would go as far as to say he is a psychopath, not caring about the people in the film. He tells us afterwards that he gave his diamond money to the Pygmies but honestly that is hard for me to believe. If someone from a developed first world country is going to go work in Africa, he should not be adding to their problems but should be helping them have a better life. He is WORSE than the colonialists.

    • Aaron Peck
      Author

      Very true. And he went about this whole thing with a very nonchalant attitude. Let’s not forget that he actually TOOK blood diamonds, which no matter what you’re doing, is a HUGE no no. He actually took the diamonds. He didn’t stop there.

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