Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan

Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan

****1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

A fictional TV reporter from backwoods Kazakhstan who started life as a sideshow attraction on television's Da Ali G Show, Sacha Baron Cohen's alter ego Borat Sagdiyev ought strictly to be a phenomenon of the small screen. So how can this British tele-celebrity survive the transition to celluloid where so many others before him (Mr Bean, the Saint, the Avengers, the Thunderbirds, even Ali G himself) have failed?

Well, it is hardly the familiar road-movie elements that do it, nor the subplots involving Borat's fractious relationship with his producer Azamat (Ken Davitian), nor his erotic pursuit of Baywatch's Pamela Anderson - all added to give the film a narrative arc that accords roughly with the requirements (and increased duration) of a feature film. No, the answer is much more straightforward: Borat is quite simply the funniest thing you are likely to see all year, and that is something which shines through on a screen of any size.

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In the little world of Borat, the unconscious is never suppressed and the id runs riot, which is to say that he gives open expression to everything that one is not supposed to say, do or think in supposedly decent, civilised society. Borat's remarks are a constant stream of racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia and unrestrained concupiscence, delivered with the wide-eyed innocence of an outsider who has never known any different - and it is this strange blend of out-and-out bigotry and clueless naïveté that makes him such a compelling comic figure, able to keep viewers charmed even as he repeatedly repels them. Unleash this loveable, moustachioed monster on an unsupecting American public, as he supposedly shoots an investigative documentary on the country for his Ministry of Information back home, and the resulting cringe-worthy chaos is a treat to watch.

Even funnier, however, than Borat's jaw-droppingly un-PC antics are the responses that they elicit from his unwitting, all-too-real interlocutors, who never quite know what has hit them, and whose unguarded reactions often suggest that Borat may not be alone in his unreconstructed, backward views. Like rodeo manager Bobby Rowe, who expresses his enthusiastic approval of Kazakhstan's supposed policy of hanging homosexuals ("that's what we're trying to do over here"). Or like the whole stadium-full of rodeo spectators who cheer, clap and whoop Borat as he extols America's "war of terror" and prays that "George Bush drink the blood of every single man, woman and child in Iraq". Or like the drunken college fratboys who declare their wish that American women should be slaves, and complain about how 'the Jews' and other minorities have the upper hand in the US. Or like the Republican Congressman Charles 'Chip' Pickering and the Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Smith, who happily officiate at a Mississippi church convention where speeches are made condemning the theory of evolution. Borat may be marked as a clownish, regressive foreigner, but as often as not in America he seems right at home.

Inevitably, and perhaps with good reason, Kazakhstan has complained about its portrayal in the film as a licentious backwater of Eastern Europe - even if the scenes set in Kazakhstan are a patent fiction, and were in fact shot in Romania. The truth of the matter is that it is an altogether different nation whose manners and mores are being tested here, as Borat's absurd cultural investigations take him deep into the US, where he discovers that there is a bit of Borat in the heart of so many Americans.

It is like watching the very best satire from a Michael Moore movie, only with the distinct advantages that there is no skewed polemic, there are many more giggles per minute, and there is no Michael Moore. Laugh and learn.

Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2006
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Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan packshot
A fake documentary about a Kazakhstani TV reporter on a cultural mission to America.
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Director: Larry Charles

Writer: Sacha Baron Cohen, Antony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, from a story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Antony Hines, Todd Phillips

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Pamela Anderson, Ken Davitian

Year: 2006

Runtime: 84 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

London 2006
SSFF 2012

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