Bawdy, quick-witted, and unrelentingly hilarious, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is possibly the funniest movie ever made. Da Ali G Show
mastermind Sacha “Baron” Cohen plays the Kazakh character Borat
Sagdiyev, which Cohen developed and polished during the run of his
cable television show, to impossibly hilarious heights in a movie that
combines all facets of postmodern cinematic satire. Cohen melds the
pranking of Jackass, the
punking of Punk’d, the satire of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and the
inventiveness of Mel Brooks to create an original brand of comedy that
stands alone as a defiant manifesto for compulsive laughs.
This film-within-a-film finds Borat, “the second most successful
reporter in all Kazakhstan,” leaving his native third-world village of
Kuczek to make a documentary about America, a magical place that he can
only barely begin to comprehend. Upon arriving at his hotel in
Manhattan, Borat discovers the erotic phenomenon of Pamela Anderson
while watching an episode of Baywatch, and resolves to travel to
California with his documentary producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) in order
to marry her.
Along the way, Borat takes his reporting duties seriously. He
interviews members of a feminist group, political yahoo Alan Keyes, a
humor coach, and a Southern etiquette mentor, in a random effort at
uncovering American conventions to pass along to the Kazakh public
through Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Information.
“I like a you; I like sex. It’s nice.” It’s with these few
provocative words that Baron Cohen grabs his audience by their guts and
pulls them into his primitive yet sophisticated formula for mocking
everything from racism and hypocrisy to the disparity of wealth and the
narcotic effects of pop culture.
The first overtly outrageous episode comes after Borat explains that
although Kazakhstan is a glorious country, its three main problems are
“economic, social and Jew.” Borat reports on his country’s annual event
“the Running of the Jews,” wherein boys dressed in white with colored
sashes around their waists run from giant paper mache monster heads of
a Jewish husband and wife.
Cohen, who is himself Jewish, goes on to roast anti-Semitism later
in the film when Borat and Azamat seek shelter at a Southern bed and
breakfast hotel unexpectedly operated by an elderly Jewish couple. In
order to escape the hotel, Borat throws money at a couple of potato
bugs on his room’s floor that he believes represent the hotel’s owners.
Perhaps the most socially over-the-top sequence comes when Borat
sings the tune of the “Star Spangled Banner” replaced with alleged
lyrics of the Kazakh anthem at a Salem, Virginia rodeo filled with its
stereotypical red state audience. Before singing a note, Borat delivers
a War on Terror rant hoping that “George Bush drinks the blood of every
man, woman, and child in Iraq” before leveling the country so that not
even a lizard survives.
Behind the veil of the film’s carefully guarded blueprint are
director Larry Charles (Masked and Anonymous) and producer Jay Roach
(director on Meet the Fockers). Borat has already stirred a whirlwind
of controversy for cutting too close to the bone of issues and
prejudices that some would rather not have put under their noses.
The Borat character represents an upwardly mobile peasant closely in
touch with the intimate inner workings of culture. It’s an uninhibited
curiosity shared by Charlie Chaplin’s unforgettable characters that
inevitably locates precise nerves of social oppression and hammers away
at them indefinitely. The people that refuse to accept the joke
unwittingly conspire to conceal a secret that Cohen already knows:
ridicule is the most powerful weapon of the oppressed. MTW