An immigrant sees America
Despite all the rhetoric about illegal aliens that currently pollutes political discourse and fuels the careers of pompous mediocrities, the most threatening foreign visitor to America is not some poor Mexican swimming the Rio Grande or scaling George Bush's ridiculous fence, but a weird guy in a bad suit from the great nation of Kazakhstan. He is the ubiquitous BoratSagdiyev, a character created by the daringly original English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, known to viewers of cable television as the host of Da Ali G Show. As he tells us, speaking directly into the camera, Borat is a television reporter who journeys to this country to conduct what he calls in the subtitle "cultural learnings," which turns out to be the funniest educational excursion ever filmed.
The movie begins in Borat's native Kazakhstan, where he shows the audience his squalid village, the hovel he calls home, and some of the local citizenry, including the town rapist, his envious neighbor, and his own sister, who proudly displays a cup she won for being the fourth best prostitute in the country. He introduces some of the village's charming customs, like the Running of the Jews --- at the end of the movie the locals have converted to Christianity, which means they replace the festival with the crucifixion of an elderly resident --- initiating the outrageous parodies of anti-Semitism that pervade the film.
When Borat and his producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) arrive in New York, the outrageousness multiplies exponentially. He tries to kiss strange men on the street, washes his face in his hotel room toilet and his underwear in Central Park, and accidentally releases his chicken (who lives in his suitcase) on the subway. After seeing the pneumatic Pamela Anderson on television, he persuades his producer to accompany him to California in an ancient ice cream truck so that he can marry her, a trek that resembles some bizarre combination of the traditional road flick with a decidedly maniacal version of Don Quixote.
Like some insane Huckleberry Finn, Borat travels through the South and West, confounding and shocking everyone he meets, sometimes in ways either unprintable or simply impossible to describe. At a rodeo he persuades the master of ceremonies to allow him to sing the national anthem; after calling for George Bush to drink the blood of Arabs, to the loud cheers of the crowd, he sings the Kazakh anthem, to the tune of "The Star Spangled Banner," which elicits quite another reaction. Unable to buy a gun, he purchases a bear for protection, and the beast roars menacingly at other cars on the highway and frightens kids who flock to the ice cream truck expecting something rather different.
Borat's travels reveal the degree to which Cohen pushes the boundaries of behavior and humor far beyond anything hitherto shown on film. Much of his dialogue and behavior lean heavily on the sexually indecent and scatological, so that his apparently innocent conversations with the people he meets rapidly descend into some truly amazing and weirdly innocent obscenity.
The movie parodies many subjects at many levels, including the television documentary it imitates --- the people Borat encounters are nonactors, including some well known politicians, who apparently believe him to be as real as themselves, and they are completely taken in by the deadpan earnestness of their interviewer. Judging by its production values, the often grainy look of videotape mingled with ordinary film, and its limited cast, the major cost of the picture must have been the payment for releases for all those folks who trusted him and whom he fooled, and reimbursements for all the damage he causes in places like an antique shop and a couple of hotel rooms that he virtually destroys.
The demented literalism of his speech, the remarkable consistency of his characterization, the Dadaist subversion of all his subjects, and his demonstrated willingness to break all the rules sometimes distract from the sheer brilliance of his parody and his performance. Quite frankly, I cannot recall ever laughing so hard at a movie that I almost lost consciousness: Borat, which I believe will be a huge success, really must be seen to be believed. It is that good.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (R), directed by Larry Charles, is now playing at Canandaigua, Geneseo, Greece Ridge, Henrietta, Pittsford, and Tinseltown.