Director: Larry Charles
Runtime: 82 min
Borat, the Kazakhstani TV presenter, a creation of Ali G comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen and the subject of a new film directed by Larry Charles, is brilliantly offensive.
The character rose to fame on Baron-Cohen’s ‘Da Ali-G Show’, in which he gave interviews to unwitting celebrities from America and the UK with excruciatingly embarrassing and comic results. It is thus fitting that he gets his own film in the midst of today’s worldwide religious, cultural and political upheaval. The film explores Borat’s journey to America, the “greatest country in the world”, in search of a cultural experiences that he can bring back to his country and thus modernize it. Its full title, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, underlines its spoof-documentary style, with the credits presented in Kazakhstani with English subtitles. Kazakhistan is treated as a backward country, in which women are slaves, and ‘The Running of The Jew’ is a popular form of entertainment, in which hags lay ‘Jew eggs’. This is a stereotype most hilariously challenged when Borat unintentionally stays at a Jewish B&B in the US.
Of course, the linguistic and cultural differences form the crux of the film’s comedy, as shown in his first journey on New York’s metro, and his attempts to kiss men hello is verbally abused. This was interesting insight into our inherent suspicion of cultural differences. However, a chance encounter with the American TV series Baywatch, and its star Pamela Anderson in his hotel room, changes his aims entirely, and he falls in love with her because she has “the a**hole of a seven year old”.
Consequently, he travels cross-country to California in a quest to meet and marry Pamela. Along the way, Borat encounters the crux of America’s underbelly, people who simultaneously define and negate the myth of America, Christian fanatics, University frat boys, Bush-loving Republicans, a prostitute and a black hip-hop crew. It reminded me of BBC journalist Louis Theroux’s recent book, The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures. Indeed, revealed so poignantly in this film are our prejudices and ignorance. A frat boy chillingly says to Borat, “Do not let a woman ever, ever make you who you are.” Admittedly, he is drunk, but the comment sticks all the same.
What was most interesting about Borat was that none of the people Baron-Cohen encountered and humorously insulted seemed to be aware that he was playing a fictional character. Baron-Cohen’s brilliance emerges in his ability to humanize Borat, rather than just make him a cultural parody. Borat bridges the popular conventions of hilarious and ironical toilet humor with a poignant, powerful insight into the state of modern America.
Reviewed by Steph Crewes