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Thursday November 16, 2006 9:03 pm

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan…Review (phew!)

BoratBorat Sagdiyev is a journalist from Kazakhstan sent to the United States to learn the ways of American culture.  Upon arriving in New York, Borat and his producer begin setting up interviews with various experts in an effort to take back to their country all they have learned, and to improve the Kazakh way of life.  Plans change, however, when Borat discovers a late night rerun of Baywatch, falls in love with Pamela Anderson, and becomes determined to travel across the country to make her his wife.  Borat: Cultural Learnings For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan will push the moral limits of even the most unscrupulous person, but cannot be ignored for its brilliant social satire and outrageous humor.

Borat Sagdiyev is, of course, a fictional character created by Sacha Baron Cohen, the same man behind ignorant British gangster, Ali G, and the lesser known effeminate Austrian fashionista, Bruno, soon to star in his own feature film.  Cohen had been toying with the different characters on British television for years, but officially brought them together in 2003 for HBO’s Da Ali G Show.  It was there that Cohen first set his sights on American culture and the stereotypes and prejudices ingrained in every citizen’s psyche.  Each episode, the three characters would conduct interviews with unknowing officials, who, try as they might, couldn’t find a way to relate to the discomforting, offensive entity before them.  These segments are strung together by quick MTV–style cuts, allowing the interviews to carry the show, not supplement it. 

This movie boasts the same kinds of interviews, but, of course, with one character only: Borat.  However, the film uses a grand storyline (the Pamela Anderson thing) to connect all the interviews to a central motivation.  This is completely understood: you can’t fill a feature-length film with a bunch of funny interviews; it must be made more coherent for a broader audience.  Unfortunately, this glorified subtext becomes nothing more than a silly, sometimes unnecessarily grotesque distraction from these hilarious interviews – in my opinion, the only things distinguishing this film from any other similar farce.

That said, go and rent seasons 1 and 2 of Da Ali G Show – take in the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen without the unnecessary fluff.  Borat should be viewed as a supplement to the beautiful simplicity of the TV show – not the other way around.  This character, along with Ali G and Bruno, doesn’t need to have a coherent flow behind him, only the chance to nail unwitting specimens, revealing the demons that reside in their subconscious, or exposing their international ignorance.  Despite these few shortcomings, Borat is well worth the trip to the theater, maybe even the $6 soda and $9 popcorn too.

Finally, I must address the pile of controversy building against Cohen and his film.  He is, as you may know, being sued by some and publicly berated by others, all over the way they are portrayed in the film or the deception Cohen utilizes in acquiring his interviews; the nation of Kazakhstan also feels humiliated, along with the small Romanian village Cohen substitutes for Borat’s actual hometown.  The genius here is that Borat gets people to believe that these far-off places actually do ferment horse urine or export human pubic hair, which is, of course, a ridiculous notion; he isn’t trying to belittle these countries, only to show how little most Americans know about the rest of the world (myself included).  And to those angry Americans, let me say this: if someone tells you a little white lie, maybe claims the following interview won’t be shown in the US or the paper you’re signing is for some random liability – “nothing you need to worry about” – then places a camera on you, why is that a green-light to begin bashing homosexuals, women, and races different from your own?  If you are a good, tolerant human being, you will conduct yourself as such and represent yourself and your country in a respectable way.  If you really do hate homosexuals or Jews and say so on camera, you have no one to blame but yourself and your own ignorance and poor discretion.  Cohen gives us a unique glimpse into the the heart of political correctness and reveals it to be merely a thin veil covering all of the prejudice we as a society think is fading. 

Whoever else finds this film offensive, please, I implore you, look for the joke.  When it reveals itself, you’ll feel differently.  This film, as with any other of Cohen’s projects, seems outwardly offensive, but is in fact, at its core, satirically brilliant.

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