REVIEW: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan [2006]


About every year a movie comes out that is hyped to the extreme. Buzz around the world causes electricity that you know will fizzle out or not come to fruition in the first place. Snakes on a Plane caused a stir earlier this summer with internet chatter, but never really became a phenomenon nor seemed to strike with the “so bad its good” moniker. Well this week saw the opening of the movie that really started being talked about around festival season with its’ raucous debut at Cannes and star Sacha Baron Cohen’s strutting around France in his man-kini. Yes that movie is the long-winded-title “documentary” Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And unbelievably it not only lived up to expectations, but also surpassed them to be the funniest movie I’ve seen in years.

Cohen is a genius as far as I am concerned and must have schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder because he so encapsulates this character of Borat that he is Borat. There is not one instance of coming close to cracking up or breaking character throughout the entire film. The accent and deadpan answers come quick and timely; this is really a foreigner in a strange land. While coming in, I was thinking the film would be reliant on his interviewing of unsuspecting personalities and him getting them to show their bigotry through the false security of thinking he himself was a bigot. Amazingly there are few of these moments as we really are shown a sense of history for our narrator: scripted and hilarious moments of his background in Kazakhstan and his attempts at adjusting to American culture. Yes the moments when he is let loose upon the country are funny, but there is also a story being told and used as a structure for the interviews to work effectively in.

Every detail has been carefully preserved to keep an amazing amount of realism to this work of pure fiction. The low-quality Kazakhstani visuals used for the opening and closing credits could be authentic, I’m not completely sure but from the uniformity of the title’s font I would guess that they have been created by the filmmakers. At every instance of a caption or credit we are given words in Russian over-captioned by English to keep the feel of a foreign film being shown in the United States. Yes there is the fact that if it was being made for the Kazakhstani people, they wouldn’t have filmed all the cut scenes in English, but I’m willing to overlook it. However, it would have been fantastic if every English speaking part had Russian subtitles to make it as authentic as possible; none of the words need be correct, as I’m guessing the Russian uttered by the film’s characters wasn’t, but the look would have been great. Besides the aesthetics, all continuity seemed to be carried through perfectly as well. Instances like the gobble when he slams his bag to the ground and the subtle showing of what really happened to the pet bear add to the reality being fabricated and help keep the audience involved with the film.

Of course the movie would not have been possible without the eclectic cast of bigots, kooks, and occasional human being shown onscreen with impossibly received consent. Every one of them are frank and honest and so offensively funny that there are moments when you can’t believe you haven’t heard news of lawsuits being filed even if their lawyers told them they had no case. We are treated to an exotic array ranging from the evangelical (comic genius), the feminist, the secessionist, and the college frat variety. Sure some it might have been staged, but even so, each encounter is priceless. The naked romp/wrestling match with his producer, played by character actor Ken Davitian, is perhaps the most disgusting yet hysterical moment I’ve seen in a theater, and their intruding on a business meeting it is absolutely priceless. I would like to believe each time they are accosted by security guards it is real, but I really don’t know. Hopefully even if the people they abuse are planted, the security is kept out of the loop for authenticity sake. Especially the encounter with Pamela Anderson, the holy grail of the story who is friends with Cohen and most certainly knew what would happen, I will continue to think the security thought she was in real danger.

Borat 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Borat gets driving lesson so he can start his American quest. TM and © 2006 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.
[2] On an American highway, Borat’s friend scares the other motorists – and Borat. Photo credit: Mark Schwartzbard. TM and © 2006 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.


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