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(Cultural Learning’s of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan)
A mockumentary that follows a Kazakhstan television reporter as he travels from his home town to New York and across the United States.
When it hit theatres in 2006 Borat was a comedy phenomenon – it broke records for seats sold in a limited release. It may lose some bite over time and people will say – ‘you had to be there’. True; there was something in the air, a dread seriousness that set the stage for Borat. Call it ‘political correctness’. Whatever its origin -- the new conservatism, the War Culture, a chill crankiness that set in when the boomers started shopping for plots – it was a foul grey bubble in search of a needle and that prick was Borat.
By 2006 the ‘correctness’ had spread to comedy. This was a problem because comedy loathes it. Comedy is thinly veiled aggression – it lampoons correctness. Comedy skewers pops tweaks. It can’t be too cozily familiar, too reassuring, or it loses its edge and stops being funny. In 2006 we had scads of ‘silly’ masquerading as comedy – shmarmy, ‘everybody loves goofball’ types dominated the small screen. It was safe and elicited a smile and upset no one – but it wasn’t relevant and it wasn’t funny. And then came Cohen.
Sacha Baron Cohen began his career on British television. He created “Da Ali G Show”. It featured his three outrageous characters who posed as interviewers; with a straight face they draw their unsuspecting victims into ridiculous talk. Borat was one of those characters – a bigoted rube with a heart of gold.
The film opens with a beaming Borat at his home town in Kazakhstan. He points out the town rapist: “naughty, naughty”; introduces us to a pretty woman, gives her a deep kiss and says ‘she’s my sister – number four prostitute in all of Kazakhstan’. She holds up a trophy. As you might imagine the Kazakhstan government was none too pleased with the portrayal. “The Running of The Jew” sequence is particularly hilarious and offensive all at once. Cohen insisted at a press conference that the Kazak government had trouble with the anti-Semitism but then decided there was just enough. Cohen’s Borat is a terrible anti-Semite, but since Cohen is a devout Jew he can get away with it – and use it. All of Borat’s outrageous beliefs are bait to pull out the worst in people.
Borat is a rube – a tall smiling geek in a cheap suit and a Joe Stalin mustache. He loves US and A – greatest country in the world. But when he and his producer, Azamat Bagatov (Davitian) set off for America to make their documentary you cringe for America – even as Kazakhstan breathes a sigh of relief. Within a day he has chased a chicken on a subway, defecated in front of a high rise and masturbated to the mannequins on Fifth Avenue. Borat’s traditional male greeting -- a kiss on both cheeks -- does not play well with complete strangers. Nor is he a hit with feminists when he suggests women have brains the size of squirrels. Everyone has been prepped to believe this man is exactly who he says: a reporter.
Bagatov is the perfect foil for Borat – gruff, short, round. They get into heated arguments in their native tongue. In fact Cohen is speaking Hebrew, and Davitian is speaking Armenian – doesn’t matter, it’s hilarious
Two things happen to Borat in New York that change his destiny. He learns his wife has been violated and killed by a bear –“high-five” – and he sees Pamela Anderson on “Bay Watch”. He’s smitten and determines to to win her. But he has a hard time selling this to Bagatov – they are short of funds. So they shop for a Hummer and settle on a used ice cream truck; they acquire a black bear along the way and the three set off to discover America. On their travels they encounter people from all walks of life -- most come off surprisingly well, considering they are dealing with a madman. Others let their guard down and reveal a degree of prejudice and xenophobia that is laughable. (There have been many law suits – all thrown out.)
Borat brings his mayhem to a Southern dinner party – a polite group of ladies and gentlemen. (Before the evening is out the hostess is instructing Borat how to use a toilet. Finally he is ejected when a large prostitute knocks at the door – Borat’s dinner guest.) They descend on a rodeo where he sings the ‘Kazakhstan’ national anthem to the tune of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’. (I’m not sure how he escaped without a beating.) He demolishes an antique store and tries to reimburse the owner with pubic hair – highly prized in Kazakhstan. It’s all fun and games but finally the money runs out – Bagatov and Borat have a falling out – a nude wrestling match in a convention center. He loses his bear. Borat is alone and destitute. He wakes on the doorstep of a church and joins in a revival meeting. They give him a ride to California where he meets his dream girl – Pamela Anderson. It does not go well.
But Borat has learned something from his journey -- he has a ‘Dorothy’ moment when he realizes his American dream was in his own back yard all along – a happy ending. A happy ending for comedy too – it had burst from its prim and proper shackles and let loose a howl to the moon – it was alive and well, thanks to Borat.