Written By: François-Noël Vanasse
Borat Sagdiyev, for those unaware, is the creation of actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. A fictional Kazakh reporter known for his misogyny, antisemitism, and flamboyant accent. Like Cohen’s other creations (street-talking youth reporter Ali G and gay fashion reporter Bruno), much of Borat’s appeal came from his seemingly inexhaustible ability to waste everyone’s time. Here is a character who deserved no one’s attention and who said horrific things. But paired with a microphone and a camera he seemed able to go anywhere and talk to anybody. In 2006 the Borat feature film took America by storm. It paraded before audiences an endless supply of America’s deepest faults in the most irrefutable way, recorded forever on film. Perhaps a victim of its own success, the film attracted an enormous amount of controversy from its “victims” some of whom demanded compensation for having been duped into appearing on such a visible platform, doing and saying the things they did. A few years later and Cohen largely failed to capture the same success with Brüno (2009). Perhaps the shock-humor was a step too far. Perhaps liberal elites were less interested in watching their own peers get excoriated following the sea-change of the 2008 Presidential Election.
Sacha Baron Cohen climbed his way back into relevance during the Trump era. A series of dramatic acting turns, the impossible stunts of the short-lived Who is America? (2018), and his outspoken statements on modern journalism and misinformation have raised Cohen’s appeal back to its glory days. Perhaps our love of fools is commensurate to our hatred of leaders. Regardless, with Cohen’s moral position on the issues he lampoons firmly established out of character, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) is primed to hit hard and take no prisoners. And, boy howdy, it is a doozy.
Through a series of mishaps Borat is sent to America in order to deliver Kazakhstan into the good graces of Trump’s inner circle by gifting his daughter (Maria Bakalova) to American Vice President Mike Pence. Donning a fatsuit and a series of wigs to disguise his still infamous persona, Borat and his daughter take on astonishing and darkly hilarious detours in order to render his daughter appealing to American men. The trip to a Texas anti-abortion clinic is especially harrowing and hilarious. The hapless store owners are back trying their best to uphold the creed of “the customer is always right” under Borat’s relentless reprehensibly ignorant cudgel.
In the first half of the film the most impressive of these involves crashing Mike Pence’s ACU CPAC conference. Borat unbelievably enters the building unmolested dressed in full Klan regalia before crashing the conference itself in a Donald Trump costume and yelling at the stage. But the most chilling portion of that stunt is when the film takes time to showcase Pence’s remarks that evening on the success and readiness of the Trump Administration’s response to coronavirus. Since Pence does not accept Borat’s gift, he instead turns his sights to Rudy Giuliani.
The highlight of the picture must be the segments with Holocaust survivor, the late Judith Dim Evans (to whose memory the film is dedicated) which occur following Borat’s invasion of a synagogue (disguised as a Jew) in order to commit suicide by awaiting the next mass shooting. Her warmth and decency, coupled with the same from emergency babysitter Jeanise Jones. fill the film with its beating emotional core. The segment where Borat leads a crowd in a racist song about violence, however, a chilling reprise from the original film, is bound to attract far greater attention as its preposterous, hilarious, and pulls-no-punches surprise ending is sure to turn some heads as well.
Films like Borat are inherently divisive. They play to one audience and demean another. Critics will say the segments featuring real people are selectively edited to create the illusion that things were more racist or misogynistic than they really were. But when it comes to rooting out what reprehensible things people will say on camera and shining a light on things folks would much rather deny there is little else on offer to match the tenacity and audacity of Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was shot in an election year, during a pandemic, and still came out in time for everyone to see it before the first Tuesday in November. In the film’s own closing words. “Now vote or you will be execute”.