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Borat (2006)

by on 2011/04/22

“I think that the cultural differences are vast, and I think he’s a delightful man, and it wouldn’t take very much for him to really become Americanized.”

* * * *

I love Da Ali G Show. I didn’t think I would but, when I gave it a chance, I did.

Then, after I learned its star and mastermind, Sacha Baron Cohen, had done a spin-off feature, Ali G Indahouse, I turned over half the bargain bins in Ontario looking out for it. I eventually found it for just a few dollars, giggled triumphantly, screened it eagerly, and immediately felt I’d been cheated.

Actually, no, wait…

Assaulted and cheated. I hated it just about as much as I loved the TV show.

Then came Borat. Another spin-off, it doesn’t so much tread a line between Da Show and Indahouse as it does jump back and forth between their sensibilities.

In addition to its flakiness, Borat is a complex piece for me to evaluate. I feel like I’m walking a tightrope, one being used in a sociopolitical tug-of-war. I’m aware the movie is favoured by someone I dislike intensely, and loathed by another I very much respect.

Fear of a blank page, plus angst . . . thy name is this review.

And yet, in re-watching, I suddenly recognized something I’d suspected in a previous viewing: I’m putting up with a lot I don’t like in order to enjoy what I do. Of course, while you could say the same of any presentation, rarely have the highs been high enough to put up with such prominent lows.

First things first. Let’s back up a little bit.

The production follows Borat Sagdiyev (Baron Cohen), a human interest news reporter from a fictionalized Kazakhstan. His simple, childlike demeanour masks his many prejudices, which often reveal themselves only after he has ingratiated himself.

Driven across the United States by his producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), he is ostensibly sampling a cross-section of American culture for a documentary film. Secretly, however, he intends to meet and marry Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson.

In truth, the entire ruse exists as an excuse for Baron Cohen to reveal his participants’ darker foibles, including homophobia, religious intolerance, sexism, and xenophobia. For me, these exposes illustrate why I love Ali G and tolerate Borat.

As I suggested earlier, that bias led me to some puzzlement when I last screened Borat. Why maintain the illusion when there’s nobody else around? If the audience is aware it’s a prank, why remain in character when alone? Why address the camera directly? Why drink from a toilet? Why taunt a bear? Why wrestle a crew member?

Now I should point out I’m a fan of mockumentaries, travelogues, and even the occasional ambush: Bob Roberts, Let’s All Hate Toronto, and Bring Back The A-Team, just for starters. Hell, it’s practically un-Canadian not to appreciate Rick Mercer Talking to Americans. The difference here is, with Borat, Americans are given an excuse to laugh, if not at themselves, then at Borat himself.

Does that spoon full of sugar make the medicine go down? Not being American, I don’t know. My attention was more on the subjects than on their interviewer-slash-provocateur. One of my rare errant thoughts was amazement at Baron Cohen keeping a straight face.

In a sense, the producers might claim there is something in Borat for everyone. More likely, there are only two kinds of “something” here: one for those who are in on the joke, and another for those it offends. Though I’m not much a fan of the fiction itself, the interviews work very well . . . so well, in fact, they reward tolerating the rest.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

83 minutes

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