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November 13, 2006

-- Movie review --

'Borat' is offensive, cynical ... and great

By Louisa McIndoe

It was with a degree of skepticism I decided one Friday to indulge the ‘teenage boy’ side of my humour and go and watch the Borat movie.

I must confess to having seen a lot of Sacha Baron Cohen’s alter ego Ali G’s television shows, and the subsequent movie Ali G in Da House. I did have an idea of what I was letting myself in for.

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A scene from the movie.  

From what I can remember, Ali G split his show with the other alter ego, Borat, as well as a host of varying successful characters, most notably Bruno, who apparently will get the next film in the Sacha Baron Cohen pipeline.

The movie itself – Borat : Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – is inexplicable.

The cinema was packed with teenagers, who all laughed uproariously, myself included. The presence of a plotline did help to keep the film on track, although I do use ‘plotline’ in the loosest definition of the word.

The plot called for Borat to go to California and find Pamela Anderson, kidnap and marry her. His traveling around the U.S., however, is where the comedy genius lies. His interviewing/subjecting himself on the clueless people of America is where he gets his best moments.

Although he is humorous, the statements he manages to get uttered out of the mouths of these mainly southern Americans creates an ‘I can’t believe they said that’ element.

As anyone who has been alive at all in society in the past month, the press coverage leading up to the release date was extensive. I found him on every chat-show possible, in all medium. They usually showed the same bits of the movie, which was good as the less you expect what will happen the better.

There was also an extensive coverage of the hatred for Borat from the people of Kazakhstan. This is understandable.

Borat is not a European or American, for a French man acting as he does would not be funny. No, instead it is exploiting our xenophobia, dressed up incongruously enough, so we can laugh at his silly accent and backwards ways, especially his views which are 50 odd years out of date. This is the case of the Kazakhstanian government, and why would they not be incensed, having this man claim their national hobbies are ‘gypsy catching’ and who refused, in the movie, to fly on a plane in case “the Jews repeat their 9/11 attack.”

However, I feel the political debate, which is certainly present and which I massively welcome, is somehow off-center.

Yes, Borat most certainly does make the Kazakh race look backward. But his exploitation of the Americans is far worse.

When Borat goes into a gun shop, and asks which gun would be best for “exterminating the Jews,” the American owner replies without a blink of an eye, a pause of hesitation. That is far more shocking, and funny, than a man who claims the wine of his home country is fermented horse urine.

Because he is mocking the Americans, and his anti-Semitic comments are from the mouth of a North London Jew, he delicately balances himself between racist and xenophobic, and the comfort zone of political correctness. His balancing allows you to laugh along at the movie, with a hidden frisson of naughtiness, as you know you shouldn’t really be laughing, especially in our overtly politically correct society, which is why the movie succeeds.

The movie itself must be watched, even if you believe you are far too academic to laugh at it. (If you cannot raise a giggle at all, check your pulse. Remember, giggling in the dark can be denied later.)

The political debate you can get yourself into is worth it. Those who will allow themselves to laugh at it will not be disappointed.

The film does lag a little bit towards the end, as it suffers from the common condition of having the best, and unseen, material at the beginning. Also, there is a scene which has Borat and his manager in a slightly compromising situation, to put it incredibly euphemistically, which means you should probably not go with a parent.

However, the transition from television to screen was incredibly successful, much more so than the Ali G movie, and will be one of the most talked about films of the year. 

 


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