"Although Kazakhstan a glorious country, it have a problem, too: economic, social, and Jew."
People have argued since the beginning of oral society. What do they argue about? Well, they argue about everything. Film is no exception for the argumentative masses, as some pictures have been able to ignite intense debate across the country and world. In my time as a cinemophile, I cannot think of a film that causes more arguments than Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. This is a film that got under the skin of all sorts of people for a variety of reasons. Rather than telling you what this film is about - I would like to focus on the fearsome debates that surrounded it.
One interesting aspect of Borat is that it sparks debate amongst several different types of people. For example, there was never a doubt that this film would draw the attention of the conservative politician, religious fundamentalist or concerned parent, but it also re-lit the fuse on a few of film snobbery's favorite debates. Can a film be so stupid that it is actually ingenious? Can a movie be so offensive that it is not offensive at all? Can a film on this level of ridiculousness really leave moviegoers with a more mature view of the outside world? This is the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's character and screenplay. He answers those pressing questions, and then flips the proverbial bird at his haters while he polishes his Golden Globe.
Can a film be so stupid that it is actually ingenious?
If Borat is anything, it is a stupid movie. This does not mean that it is made for stupid people. It tells the story of a bumbling, goodhearted television personality from the glorious nation of Kazakhstan. He (Borat) is sent to the "U S and A" to try and learn how to improve life in his country. As he goes about on his adventures, he acts in a way that we would normally see as pretty dumb. But an educated eye will eventually realize that he is trying to point out how little understanding Americans have of foreign cultures. In our defense, I would not categorize Borat as an easy person to understand. He is an anti-Semitic homophobe who carries around pictures of his son's naked penis in his wallet. He is constantly referencing the raping of his countries women and the customary killing of gypsies. He is our xenophobic nation's worst nightmare because he is curious and we do not understand how to help him. This is a film that makes us, white America, feel pretty stupid. When you can see this, you can see the ingenious design behind the entire production.
Can a movie be so offensive that it is not offensive at all?
Comedies have always been able to get away with presenting more offensive material. Mel Brooks has made a living off of showing us offensive material in way that makes us laugh (The Producers, Blazing Saddles). But Borat takes everything one step further. Unlike Brooks, Cohen is doing and saying offensive things in front of an unsuspecting audience. Several scenes are filmed in a "candid camera" sort of way that glorifies the horrific reactions of the film's reluctant supporting cast members. This adds a bit more power to the film's comedic effect, but this does not make it any less offensive. How does Borat pull this off? Charles and Cohen present everything with a thick outer layer of ridiculousness that helps the viewer realize that what Borat is doing/saying is not okay.
Can a film on this level of ridiculousness really leave moviegoers with a more mature view of the outside world?
This is the most prominent positive feature of Borat. This is a film that hides under a blanket of stupidity, but is really a satire of the most obnoxious variety. The film opens with our main character explaining the wonder of his home nation. We are shown the ignorance of the people in "Kazakhstan." But when Borat gets to the United States, he show us that we not much better. This is most noticeable in a scene where Borat is singing the National Anthem at a large rodeo. Before he sings, he gives a long speech about how American should slaughter and kill all of their enemies without remorse. The crowd goes crazy over this. Borat shows us that there is not a lot of difference between the Islamic extremists, idiotic frat boys, backwards rednecks and white America.
When it was released, some critics were naming Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan the funniest film ever made. To me, that bold of a statement is as ridiculous as the film itself. At times, Borat is side-splitting. The jokes never stop coming. It is an educational satire on American life. But I do warn you - if you do not see the hilarity in Boart's willingness to expose stupidity, you probably will not find this film very amusing. I find it very smart, interesting, daring and well...Very Nice!
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: B-
My Next Film...Saturday Night Fever (Badham. 1977)