The return of Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev is deliberately timed to bring shame to the already circus-like Trump administration ahead of the national election held November 3. The first of three evolving onscreen title translations tags the project “Borat: Gift of Sexy Monkey to Vice Premier Mikhael Pence for Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan.” While this “subsequent moviefilm” is statistically unlikely to move the needle for any unicorn-esque undecided voters, it is also a worthy successor to the original 2006 outing. A finely calibrated blend of lowbrow vulgarity and sharp social satire, it is a document -- or mockument -- of, and for the moment.
Baron Cohen’s longtime working methods depend, at least to a degree, on the unwitting participation of people not in on the gag. Some content is carefully scripted while other scenes emerge from the expected and unexpected reactions of the marks who cross the path of the production. One imagines that the presence of cameras might arouse a certain skepticism, but there is no shortage of willing performers. And alongside the regular folks are those with some degree of power and/or public profile. Given how long Baron Cohen has been drinking from the well, it says something that a high-visibility figure like Rudy Giuliani ends up with egg on his face and a hand down his trousers.
Giuliani’s encounter with breakout star Maria Bakalova, the Bulgarian performer who plays Borat’s fifteen-year-old daughter Tutar, has gobbled up most of the initial coverage of the movie. Even if you buy Giuliani’s claim that he was merely tucking in his shirt, his eagerness to follow Bakalova into the hotel suite’s bedroom for post-interview drinks shows remarkable gullibility and poor judgment. It’s no mean feat that Giuliani comes off worse than the woman who, at Borat’s request, decorates a cake with “Jews will not replace us” or the two disconcertingly sympathetic conspiracy theorists who host Borat during the pandemic.
Besides the set-piece that posterizes Giuliani and the moment in which Baron Cohen interrupts Mike Pence at the February 2020 meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (in which Borat disguises himself in a Donald Trump costume), the general arc of the narrative is in keeping with the antics of the original movie. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the comedian makes a convincing argument that racism, ignorance, misogyny, and antisemitism are perhaps in even greater evidence, if not greater supply, under Trump.
The original “Borat” launched the ridiculousness at such a rapid pace that it didn’t matter whether every gag landed. The sequel utilizes the same more-is-more technique (the trailer contains several items that didn’t make the final cut), and the weary and the wary might not be inclined to offer Sagdiyev the warmest of welcomes on his return to the United States. There is a certain “eye of the beholder” quality to Baron Cohen’s tactics, and Inkoo Kang and others have written essays questioning the extent to which Baron Cohen punches down instead of up. Outrageous exaggerations and fabrications about Kazakhstan culture aside, Borat stumbles into hopefulness where it is otherwise in short supply.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” can be seen on Amazon Prime.
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