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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

  • Larry Charles
  • 2006

What must be one of the most-hyped comedies ever finally hits screens with what may come as a surprise — believe the hype. Borat could never surpass expectations as they have been built so high due to close on overexposure across the world. It at least meets the expectations as we witness Sacha Baron Cohen’s fake Kazakhstani TV reporter Borat Sagdiyev get sent to America to research its culture and improve his own country. While the Kazakhstan government may have been up in arms about the way it was perhaps unfairly portrayed in the trailer, Borat is far more subversive towards American culture than any made-up facts about Kazakhstan.

…customs and rituals

Essentially, Borat looks like a fly-on-the-wall documentary as Borat and his associate, Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), are filmed on American streets, interviewing members of the public and other officials to take in its customs and rituals. Initially intending to confine the research to New York, Borat’s glimpse of Baywatch re-runs causes him to fall in love with C.J. Parker, AKA Pamela Anderson. Cue the hiring of the cheapest van they can find, and a road trip across the States to California, and Borat’s ultimate goal to marry Pamela.

Filmed guerilla-style and mirroring the interview set up of Da Ali G Show, it is toe-curling just waiting for Sacha Baron Cohen build up to a mere muttering or stunt that will leave his unsuspecting onlookers speechless. His lessons in dinner party etiquette are blown when his uninvited guest, a prostitute, arrives unannounced while the look on the faces of a Women Institute trio as he criticises feminism are priceless. Many of these interviews have been cut down to one-liners, but it allows for Cohen to embark on what seem to be off-the-cuff moments of genius.

At one point he hitches a lift with a group of drunk college boys who lap up his bigoted ways and make some utterly hilarious comments themselves. Even better is Borat’s spiritual awakening at a evangelical meeting and his final meeting with Pamela. How he manages to stay in character without bottling out is lost on me — this man has nerves of steel. Together with one of the most amusing fight scenes ever when Borat and Azamat wrestle naked before chasing each other through a hotel, Borat is sprinkled with moments of unbridled joy. I do not think I have laughed so much at a film since Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004). Yes, it’s that good.

…He is possibly going to be so well known now that he cannot hope to go unnoticed

There are, of course, the nay-sayers who have been left cold by Borat. Yes, he will offend pretty much everybody. Women, Jews, Blacks, Christians, Americans, Kazakhstan and just about everyone else will probably find something to shake their heads at. However, Cohen is expertly drawing attention to the bigotry and social customs we never question by going to extremes and drawing people into rages that expose them to ridicule. Sure, Borat may not be particularly subtle but it is a rip-roaring ride that should easily be crowned comedy of the year. Whether Cohen can create another film like this is another question altogether. He is possibly going to be so well known now that he cannot hope to go unnoticed as “the guy who made Borat”. His comic savvy will surely be tested, but hopefully it is a test he can pass and flourish in.

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