Cinema Reviews
You are in:  Home > Nouveau: Popular Culture > Movie Reviews   •  Archives   •  send page to a friend
Headline Feed
Email to a friend

Film Review

BORAT: SHOCK AND AWE BROUGHT HOME TO AMERICA

Sasha Baron Cohen as Borat
Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

 

 

By Colin Graham

WARSAW, 8 November 2006—Most critics reach for the word ‘vulgar’ in order to slam a film, not celebrate it. But in this case the adjective should be paraded with pride above every billboard advertising the movie. For Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is the moment in cinematic history when the lowest common denominator in culture leaps—like a cornered rat— toward the throat of middle class taste and rips it out, tonsils, voice box and all.

When Borat—a.k.a. Sasha Baron Cohen—takes us to his mocked-up Kazakhstani village—a Romanian one in actual fact—at the start of the movie we are lured into a false sense of security. The characters we meet are caricatures whose presence causes us the odd chuckle, though they unnerve us slightly because they are obviously being exploited outrageously. But at least they seem as if they are in on the act, with Borat hugging his ‘mother’ and snogging his ‘sister’ with the clear consent of both. It is when Cohen takes his character to the United States that the natives become the victims of a breathtaking scam, steeped in rampant bad taste. The Kazakhstan government has made ludicrous attempts to repair the supposed damage caused to its nation’s image by Borat, but the country dealt the greatest harm by the film is the most powerful in the world.


Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat: Cultural Learnings of
America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

In a strange way this is to the USA’s credit, for the Americans who play host to Borat do so with admirable openness and often warmth, and with which the fictional character repays them with merciless mockery. The Borat film is shock and awe brought home to the United States of America.

The scene where Borat apparently sings the Kazakh national anthem to a crowd at a rodeo—which almost got Cohen lynched —at one stroke reveals how bigotry and trust are often the strangest of bedfellows. How, after all, did Borat manage to get himself into this situation in the first place? Only by his hosts believing he meant them no harm and that he was an innocent: a foreign, barely civilised buffoon. And yet, in the end, the joke is on them.


Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat: Cultural Learnings of
America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

In some ways Borat’s victory against the USA amounts to the nation’s belated comeuppance after its roughshod triumph over the eastern bloc, which came with the collapse of Communism. Cohen’s invention brilliantly exposes the ugly prejudices that fermented in the West during the Cold War period against those whose freedom it was ostensibly fighting for. And then, Borat’s low-grade ideology—seemingly a product of the former Soviet regime’s insularity and suspicion of outsiders—dovetails miraculously with that of the land of the free.


Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat: Cultural Learnings of
America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

When the spoof Kazakhstani TV reporter meets a group of middle-aged feminists he, predictably enough, causes them deep offence. Gratuitously stepping over the line, Borat reminds us that the post-Communist masses in Eastern Europe and Asia took the freedom promised them by the West literally, whilst bringing a lot of their own profoundly disturbing baggage along with them at the same time. "Anything goes" was the message they heard amid the din of change and the ‘political correctness’ adjunct to the liberty they were promised easily fell on deaf ears. What this film proves is that Americans were never that keen themselves as adherants to the notion that all human beings—whether black, white, of different sexes or sexual persuasions—are equal at birth.


Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat: Cultural Learnings of
America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

That Borat never speaks Kazakh—nor anything remotely similar to the language—is the biggest jibe he directs at the West. When not tormenting his interlocutors with his linguistic contrivances—bad English has rarely been as powerful as Borat’s—Cohen reverts to either Hebrew or Polish throughout. As a Jew himself, he is well-placed to use his own tongue to lampoon those he meets, particularly the anti-Semites. But in adopting Polish the satirist goes a step further. Of all the languages in the ex-Communist bloc, it is perhaps Polish which best represents the pro-Western drive to escape the Soviet yoke. And yet here it is being used as a tool to reinforce the worst notions of what it is to be someone from behind the former Iron Curtain. But you can bet your life that few in the West will notice. The Borat film is about to prove, both to those in the know and not, that ignorance is, indeed, bliss.

 

A British  journalist based in Warsaw, Colin Graham writes on culture in Central and Eastern Europe.  He has written on the satirical cartoonist Marek Raczkowski as well as given an inside look at gay clubs in Warsaw for Culturekiosque.com.

Related CK Archives

 Eddie Rosner Revival : The First Authentic Ghost Band In Russia

Anthony Suau: Beyond The Fall
The Former Soviet Bloc in Transition 1989 - 1999


Confused, Contradictory Policies: Will Post-9/11 America Lose Its Allies, Its Way?

Kosovo: The Russian Outlook

Review: Brokeback Mountain



[ Feedback | Home ]

If you value this page, please send it to a friend.

Copyright © 2005 Euromedia Group, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.