If you haven’t seen Borat Sagdiyev (played by Baron Cohen with Peter Sellers-style panache), he is an over-eager, disastrously uninhibited TV journalist from Kazakhstan. The film starts with Borat introducing us to his family and friends in their national environment (shot in a real village in Romania).
Borat is cheerfully unaware that his homeland is a hotbed of impoverished depravity. He is especially proud that his blonde sister, whom he French-kisses, is “fourth-best prostitute in all of country”. He is even fond of his neighbour, who has the much coveted role of town rapist. “Not too much raping now!” Borat joshes him, on leaving town. “Humans only!”
The biggest local event is “The Running of the Jews”, an annual event based on the Pamplona bull run, with locals fleeing “Mr and Mrs Jew”, decked out with huge, grotesque papier-mache heads.
On leaving his village in its finest horse-drawn car, Borat embarks on a fact-finding documentary about America which will impart its cultural values to the Kazakh people.
His attempts to kiss male strangers in Manhattan meet with predictably outraged responses, as does his unfortunate accident with a suitcase on the New York subway, which results in the release of a chicken.
So far, so Crocodile Dundee. But then Borat’s discovery of Baywatch on his hotel TV gives him a burning desire to cross America to marry the lovely and virginal Pamela Anderson - which, as we discover towards the end of the picture, involves tossing her into a traditional Kazakh “wedding sack” and assaulting her.
Most people would fly across America, but Borat prefers to drive “in case the Jews repeat their attack of 9/11.”
So he travels there via, among other potential disaster areas, a rodeo in Virginia where he assures the crowd that the Khazakhstanians “support your war of terror” (which is met with loud cheers) and expresses the heartfelt wish that “George Bush may drink the blood of every, man, woman and child in Iraq” (which also attracts enthusiastic applause).
He gets booed only when he starts singing the provocative words of the Kazakh national anthem to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner, which claim that Kazakhstan is top nation in whole world.
It was at this point that I started to fear for Baron Cohen’s life. I learn from the production notes that shortly afterwards a group of angry rodeo hands on horseback surrounded the film-makers’ van, demanding that they be lynched.
Even when Borat was being less provocative, the eight-person film crew rarely passed a day without being arrested. And it’s hard to believe that Borat could have carried out his attempted abduction of Pamela Anderson without being shot or seriously injured by security men..
I can’t say that I am surprised that director Todd Phillips (who made the more conventional gross-out comedies Road Trip and Old School) departed during shooting after “creative differences” with Baron Cohen. He was replaced by Larry Charles, from TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Even before it was shown to critics, the completed film has come under fierce attack. Predictably, the Kazakh authorities are unimpressed by this foul calumny on their homeland - which Baron Cohen clearly chose at random and might just as easily have been any other little-known region of the former Soviet Union.
Some Jewish groups are alarmed at the film’s apparent anti-semitism, which is, of course, ironic – Baron Cohen is himself Jewish.
The people with most genuine cause for complaint are the Americans, whose hospitality and good manners under considerable provocation are, on the whole, very commendable.
Cohen’s satirical purpose is to expose the ignorance, bigotry and jingoism that he believes lies at the heart of America. Not everything in the movie serves that agenda. The Jackass-style practical jokes too often seem like condescension to a youthful audience. As in the Ali G movie, Baron Cohen is too easily drawn towards the puerile and lavatorial.
Because Borat’s character never develops and the structure is sketchy, the film barely sustains its 82-minute running-time. Not all the episodes work and many are so truncated as to be relatively worthless.
Borat’s confrontation with three humourless feminists fails to ignite, mainly because their impulse is to walk away rather than confront his foolishness. His encounters with American politicians, who are rightly wary of him, are even more disappointing.
He has more success with ordinary people, sometimes getting them to say things of such astonishing bigotry against homosexuals, women and racial minorities that it is hard to understand why they gave their consent to inclusion in the film. The worst offenders are some alarmingly stupid, drunken students who treat Borat as their spiritual soulmate.
Many who hate America will seize upon such sequences as evidence of national ignorance and decadence. My feeling is that Borat could have found just as many idiots in any other country, including the UK. And, of course, had he tried to make the same kind of movie in many places outside America, he would have been thrown into prison and might never have come out.
Is the film a comic classic? Not really. It lacks the structural brilliance and generosity of spirit that distinguished the comedy which I certainly regard as the best of the year, Little Miss Sunshine. However, it did make me laugh out loud, and often. If you can overlook the film’s crudity, cruelty and over-eagerness to sneer, it’s terrific entertainment.
The following is an extract from a Question and Answer section between Borat and Jason Anderson, of Eye Weekly:
Anderson: What are your favourite American films? How do they compare with the films of Kazakhstan?
Borat: We like very much American films Mrs. Doubtfires and sex comedy, The Accused. We also very much like comedian Edward Murphy and laugh very much at his chocolate skin. It is unusual! The Kazakhstan film industry is grow very nice. Just like in Tinselwood, we turn comic books in to movie. Currently we are making film of Astounding Woman. She have 12 magnificent breast - 5 front, 5 back and 2 under - that produce sufficient milk to make 25 kilogram of cheese a day and her vagine so big that she can give birth to 14 sons at one time. Also her brain so powerful for a woman, that at end of her working day, she can lock her own cage.
Anderson: Some of your countrymen have also expressed their concern over what you show the world about Kazakhstan - why are they not proud?
Borat: I has made much efforts to show the world a positives image of Kazakhstan - we is modern nation and as civilized as any other, especial since the Tulyakev Reforms of 2003, which mean women can now travel on inside of bus, homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats, and age of consent have been raised to 14 year old. Also, we treat all peoples with equal respect - even those with... problems. For example, last May we open the Almaty Retard Centre - it have over 300 cages for them to live in, and public viewing gallery where for 10 tenge you can look on them and for 15, you can throw potatoes.