Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm (Cert 18)
VOD (Distributor: Amazon Studios) Running Time: 96 minutes approx.
In 2007, professional TV and film troll Sacha Baron Cohen claimed to have retired his character Borat Sagdiyev, a tactless, feckless, clueless TV presenter from Kazakhstan after the 2006 mockumentary film Borat. In 2020, just as things are getting worse across the globe thanks to the COVID virus, Borat is back.
After spending 14 years in prison for making his homeland a laughing stock with his film, Borat (Baron Cohen) is released by Kazakhstan Premier Nazarbayev (Dani Popescu) to carry out a special mission. To ingratiate himself with Donald Trump, he sends Borat back to the US to give Trump a gift in the form of a monkey, and to do this Borat is to deliver it through Vice-President Mike Pence instead.
When Borat arrives in the US, instead of the monkey in the crate he finds his 15 year-old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) who he first met just before he left Kazakhstan. Tutar idolises Melania Trump and wants to marry a rich white man too. When Borat informs the Premier the monkey is dead, he is instructed to give Pence another bribe; Borat mistakes this as “bride” and decides to give Tutar a makeover.
Ordinarily, I would have said “and hilarity ensues” but in the case of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, this will be very subjective. If Americans enjoyed the first film maybe they didn’t get the joke was on them; this time, half the country will no doubt be baying for Sacha Baron Cohen’s blood after watching this.
Borat once is used once again as a vessel for exploring – or maybe exploiting – American foibles that will seem peculiar to the rest of us, but with a more pointed political angle this time around. Filming began during 2019 long before the COVID outbreak, taking the film into a different direction when it hits halfway through, but serendipity being what it is, some rather illuminating material fell into their laps as a result.
The first half is really about teasing Middle America with the uncivilised attitudes and behaviour of the Kazakhstan visitors, in true Borat fashion exacerbated one hundred fold, and taste boundaries pushed to levels of gratuity and offensiveness guaranteed to polarise opinion. Sometimes it is a handy tool to prick pompous egos, others it is simply to shock. Mileage will vary so be warned, not all gags, visual or verbal, will be for you.
Since the premise of this film is to see how far they can work a joke before the penny drops, if it ever does, much of the “antagonism” – for wanting a better term – is born out of the unsuspecting “victim” (ditto) only getting the half the conversation the audience is party to all of. For example, Tutar swallows a cake decoration of a baby, so they visit a church centre to get “rid of the baby” that Borat “put in his daughter”. Puerile schoolboy humour or wickedly clever innuendo, you decide.
For this writer, the fertility dance at the already creepy Father-Daughter debutant ball was the apex of gratuity and tastelessness though I get that others will roar in stunned laughter at the boldness of it. The reality is the success of a film of this nature rests of whether one respects the moxie of the cast for performing these outlandish acts in a public situation, or cringes at the thought of them embarrassing themselves to make fun of others.
Yet, Tutar’s emotional journey is an important subplot in turning the joke around on the strict patriarchy of hidebound countries (if this portrayal of Kazakhstan is to be believed) and the harmful lies they live under. Tutar has grown up believing all women live in cages and are forbidden to have the same jobs as men, that their “vagines” have teeth and will bite their hands off, and other such nonsense.
Her time in America opens her eyes to a more positive experience for women and the lies she has been fed by her father and her culture. Whether staged or not – it is hard to tell sometimes – there is a touching moment when a babysitter encourages Tutar not to be manipulated by Borat into getting a boob job and sold off to Mike Pence, and choose her own path in life.
Elsewhere, Borat has his own moment of clarity when he meets Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans (to whom the film is dedicated). Borat’s character is Anti-Semitic and has a crisis of faith from seeing a Facebook post from a Holocaust denier; it is said Baron Cohen had to break character to explain the context of their scene when things got a bit emotional.
Most shocking of all is the final third act, in which Borat goes into quarantine with two redneck Trump supporters. If this wasn’t a set up, it is terrifying that people actually have the beliefs they do about trump, COVID, Obama, Bill and Hilary Clinton and so on. They are not alone of course, per the now infamous scene at a Trump rally where Borat sings a song inciting violence to Democrats.
Quite a lot of the film was shot guerrilla style with natural reactions, whilst others feel too staged that it is a ludicrous nobody – including Rudy Giuliani – suspected anything. Baron Cohen inhabits his character like a second skin and can count himself lucky he could create such a great rapport with impressive 24 year-old newcomer Maria Bakalova. The question is, will she see her career take off from here or will she be damned from making this film?
Regardless of how much of the humour will personally appeal, if the outrageous material is too shocking, or if the depiction of far right America angers you, Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is a timely, vital, and necessary slice of trenchant satire in a world that has sadly feels beyond satire.
Available now on Amazon Prime!
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black