- Larry Charles
- Sacha Baron Cohen, Kenneth Davitian, Luenell
- 84 min.
- Release Date
Based on the character originated on Da Ali G Show, Borat Sagdiyev comes from comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, a tall Jewish Brit who disappears behind the thick mustache and frizzy hair of his character. Cohen always plays the foreigner (you’ll never see him as the straight-man in your standard Hollywood fare), his accents amounting to utter embodiments including German and French and so forth. In Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, we follow his character’s adventures across the U.S. and discover not only the genius range of this actor, but also the all-too-common level of alarming racism maintained by your average American.
This is also one of the funniest movies you’ll ever see, though only the first time you see it. The viewing experience involves some physical participation. It entails covering your eyes in revulsion, your jaw dropping in awe, and plugging your virgin ears in a futile attempt to unhear things you’ve heard. Wild knee slapping and animated, convulsive jolts comprise your shocked reactions. Sometimes the grotesque humor (I’m thinking specifically of the term “back pussy” and naked man-on-man wrestling sequence) embarrasses so that the only thing to do is bury your face in your hands. And with a barely-feature-length-runtime of only 84-minutes, watching the movie makes for exhausting exercise, leaving you worn down and tired from hooting and hollering throughout.
What keeps us laughing are the stereotypes piled on top of stereotypes, most exaggerated to the point of pure imagination by Cohen. Consider Borat’s home of Kazakhstan, whose national pastimes include ping pong, sun-bathing, disco dancing, and watching ladies while they “make toilet.” Their cultural festival called “The Running of the Jew” involves the townspeople fleeing from a masked creature down their main street; when it lays an egg, the children run out with unbridled elation to smash it. Nevermind how much this insults actual Kazakhs, but instead consider the deliberate exaggeration of these stereotypes, and how in turn they force us to consider how wholly outmoded our own such ignorance can be.
The film’s structure is comprised of semi-improvised but clearly rehearsed material involving our hero. Borat arrives in America, sent by the Kazakhstan Ministry of Information, complete with a jar of gypsy tears to protect him from AIDS. (What else?) During his quest, he conducts interviews with actual unsuspecting victims that signed their life away on Cohen’s air-tight disclaimer, including politicians and religious groups. Many have tried to sue the actor for misrepresenting himself and his intentions. After all, no one tells these interviewees that Borat is actually a popular comedian, or that they’re the butt of a hilarious joke. Consider the RV full of college dudes that take mercy on the hitchhiking Borat and confess “we should have slaves” and “you are better than a woman.” They were none-too-happy when everyone found out about their sexist, racist ideas, but there was nothing that could be done after making their drunken X-mark. The movie is filled with stories like this. Every one of them is worth discovering.
Some critics claim that Borat is “the funniest movie ever,” but while the initial viewing may cause a draining physical reaction, subsequent viewings get calmer and quieter, as the humor relies mostly on base shocks. Nevertheless, the “real” footage proves hilarious over and over again, simply because the reactions from Cohen’s interviewees never lose potency. Revisiting it, the audience leaves behind the naked fighting and prostitute jokes, realizing there are about 30-minutes of fluff and another hour of utter hilarity. But at least for that first viewing, you’ll laugh harder than you have in a long time…