DVD Review Of Borat

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 10/24/08


  A couple of years ago, in 2006, the biggest comedy hit was a film called Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan. The film grew out of a recurring character on a British television show, Da Ali G. Show, created by Jewish comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. I mention the manís religion because the film attacks Anti-Semitism in a brutally funny way, even as many dull-witted critics accuse the film of that bias. If so, then Charlie Chaplinís The Great Dictator was also Anti-Semitic, and his Monsieur Verdoux was a defense of mass murder. Cohen plays a Kazakh television reporter, Borat Sagdiyev, sent to America to make a documentary on American living for the benefit of his home nation. Thatís the setup, which starts in Boratís native village, and depicts his family and villagers as a bunch of creepy, incestuous morons who have an annual ĎRunning Of The Jewí festival, ala the bulls at Pamplona, Spain. Of course, this is not because the film is satirizing that Ďreality,í but because itís picking up and throwing the Western preconceptions of that country back in the faces of that audience, much the same way that the film Everything Is Illuminated portrayed the Russian natives that are presented as idiots in that film in ways to tweak the preconceptions those people and customs engender in the West. In keeping with that, the supposed Kazakh language and ĎNational Anthemí are, naturally, gibberish and folly.

  The 84 minute film is a mockumentary that is not subtle in anything it does (ala Spinal Tap, or the Christopher Guest films), and is certainly not a work of genius, anymore than a Three Stooges short is, so why so many viewers and critics felt so negatively about the film, even as it broke box office records, shows that American stupidity is never to be underestimated, even though a similar ruckus ensued a few years earlier when the satiric tv cartoon South Park was made into a terrifically scalding movie. After the setup, the film is a series of blackout sketches that take Borat (in character) as he basically does a Candid Camera routine in front of gullible Americans who believe he is a legitimate Russian reporter. He has run ins with politicos like Alan Keyes and Bob Barr- the current Libertarian Party Presidential candidate, a gay pride parade, and a group of Feminazis. Cohen deliciously gets all to reveal their own darker and denser sides. All of the sketches are gotten through quickly, so the jokes never get old. The one thread in the film is that Boratís ugly wife dies, not long after Borat sees a Baywatch rerun, and falls in love with Pamela Anderson, whom he decides to sexually pursue crosscountry. Along with him, in a used ice cream truck they buy, is an unseen Kazakh cameraman and the filmís producer, Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian). Other than Cohen and Davitian, the only other real actors in the film are Anderson, who makes a late cameo when Borat literally tries to bag her, and a black woman named Luenell, who plays a prostitute Borat ends up marrying.

  Through it all, a number of misadventures occur, such as a test of etiquette lessons at a dinner party with Southern white racists, learning cultural tips from black gangstas in a Southern hood, rodeo goers who display an immense amount of cowboy xenophobia, slavery loving frat boys who pick Borat up in the desert and show him a Pamela Anderson porno tape to dispirit him, and Pentecostalists who speak in tongues, who teach him the power of Mr. Jesus. But, bar none, the funniest scene in the film comes when Borat leaves a hotel bathroom, and finds Azamat jerking off to his magazine. The two engage in a naked fight that ends up with Azamat pouncing on Borat in a 69 position, and the two of them running naked through the hotel, until tackled and asked to leave. This is what separates the two men, and sends Borat into the desert. Ultimately, he loses Pamela Anderson- whom he never had, and marries Luenell, and reports that life back in Kazakhstan is better than before.

  The Twentieth Century Fox DVD has an old Soviet Era film feel to it, replete with badly worn looking film stock and Cyrillic lettering, and poor English translations of the gibberish Kazakh language. It has no audio commentary, but has some cool deleted scenes- although it was a good decision to excise them, especially a long and tedious (although funny) supermarket scene. There are also faux commercials- a music infomercial for the movieís soundtrack, a Kazakh Baywatch spoof called Sexydrownwatch, and an interesting compendium of the worldwide publicity tour for the film, including some late night tv appearances with Cohen in character as Borat.

  One of the more interesting sidelights of researching this film was seeing how many people who appeared, and signed waivers, tried to sue the filmmakers (including director Larry Charles). This includes the nation of Kazakhstan and a group representing Gypsies, who claim their town was defamed and presented in a bad light, for Cohen shot that portion of the film in Romania. Yet, I was not astonished. Anytime someone shows up another party, be it intellectually or humorously (or, worst of all, both ways) there are bound to be immature and money-grubbing morons looking to make an unethical buck. That none of the rubes could figure out they were being put on bespeaks the utter idiocy of the American public at large. Now, itís hard to believe all the scenes were taken cold. After all, could the frat boys have had the Pamela Anderson video needed to despoil Boratís dream? Yes, sheís a frat boy fantasy, but still, Occamís Razor says it was a setup, and indeed, all the alleged lawsuits may be just a part of the publicity campaign.

  Nonetheless, the film suffers none the worse for it. And, if all the scenes were truly done cold, it bespeaks much of the goodness of the poorer and more disenfranchised members of society than the well off. Blue collar folk, the black gangstas, and the gay paraders, all embrace Borat with humor and grace, whereas the rich and white often scorn him. And, despite the harsh attacks on the film, culturally and socially, and despite there being nothing too deep here, Borat is a wonderful critique- nay, full out assault, on the asininity of Political Correctness, for, despite all the claimed offenses in the film, none of the people who appeared and filed lawsuits suffered anything they did not inflict themselves, due to their own arrogance and biases, and fully knowing they had signed proper legal releases, which is included at the filmís creditís end.

  Borat is the sort of a film that comes along at a certain moment and finds its niche (the hysteria and xenophobia rampant post-9/11), due to events in the real world, but will not long be remembered once the situations that made it so popular fade. Nonetheless, even in 50 years, there will still be a dozen or so scenes that will give one laughing pains the way a Moe, Larry, and Curly eye gouge still does. And that sort of staying power is still worth something in the ephemera of Hollywood these days.


[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website.]


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