3rd December 2020
After fourteen years and one month, our favourite Kazakh journalist is back with a vengeance… and a 15-year-old daughter. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (need I say any more) is 96 minutes of ridiculous gags, public humiliation and satirical genius.
When Borat first entered our screens, it was into a very different US and A which he landed. Since then, Baron Cohen had apparently hung up his mankini and left Borat in 2006. However in the age of Donald Trump, fake news and Coronavirus, Sacha Baron Cohen’s sharp satire is needed, urgently.
Baron Cohen gives an excellent performance. Borat Sagdiyev, 12 years older, is every bit as hilariously disgraceful as when we met him in his youth. Some of the gags might have been recycled from the first film, and the shock factor of Baron Cohen wandering around in public embarrassing himself is somewhat lessened the second time round. However, where the novelty pranks have less impact, he redeems himself with his skilled exposure of some of the darkest sides of American society. Ridiculous and outrageous as he is, Borat masterfully pulls just the write string to evoke responses from the public we would never normally see.
But stealing the show was Borat’s daughter/ non male son, Tutar (‘you have a name?’) played by Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova. Whilst the father/ daughter relationship is in its early stages, with Borat only realising she exists at the start of the film, after some attempted deporting and a spat over eating a live monkey, a very warm and very real relationship starts to develop. Bakalova sculpts a brilliantly convincing character in Tutar, a girl who starts the film a juvenile child who begs for a cage ‘just like Melania’s’ and ends it a feminist journalist who catches the ‘terrible disease of curiosity’. She keeps up with Baron Cohen in the ridiculous public spoofs, she holds her own in difficult conversations and she unnervingly exposes Trump’s right-hand man, Rudy Giuliani in an almost unwatchably uncomfortable scene. With Tutar’s character comes a wonderful feminist spin on the film, she is a much-needed reminder of the taken for granted, and a warning of the misogyny at the heart of society.
Yet for all its excellent writing and acting, Borat 2’s best asset is the American general public. There are some shocking encounters. There are some real mouth open in disbelief as you frantically google whether that particular scene was staged whilst begging and praying that it was and that these are not real people saying real words encounters. (Spoiler alert: they were rarely staged). Sacha Baron Cohen is not subtle in the message he is putting across, and the people don’t make it particularly difficult for him, be it the woman who happily agrees to write an anti-Semitic message on a cake or the Influencer who instructs Tutar to be ‘submissive’ and ‘weak’ as a woman. Baron Cohen is testing them, almost daring them to do their worst, and they play along very well. The gun-wielding republicans, the conspirators, the seedy politicians, they all paint their own caricatures so vividly it’s almost too good to be true.
You can’t help but laugh at these moments but, for all the good entertainment they make, they underline real problems in American society. When there’s money on the table, morals fly out the window. ‘I’m looking for a suitable cage for her’, Borat tells a shopkeeper in reference to his daughter. Cue a ‘sorry we don’t sell cages for humans’, maybe even a ‘get out of my shop’, or at least a laughs-it-off-and-pretends-he-didn’t-hear. Oh what’s this, he’s taking him outside to his $900 animal cage. They’re back in the shop and Borat asks for some advice on mass murder weapons, surely the guy will draw the line here, yeah that’ll be enough to get Borat kicked out and reported to the authorities. Oh wait no, false alarm, he’s pointing out the biggest gas cannister, of course.
It’s disgraceful, it’s abhorrent, it’s enough to shatter anyone’s faith in humanity, but Borat 2 gives us reason not to despair just yet. Scattered among the film is the occasional person to grant us a speck of hope. There’s the odd moment which, nestled amongst the absurd and the outrageous, catches you off guard with a strange intimacy. One of these moments comes when Borat, adorned in a costume of anti-Semitic stereotypes whilst wandering around a synagogue, meets two elderly Jewish women. Faced with a man displaying symbols of all the prejudice Jews have been faced with, the women are calm and understanding: reasoning with him, asking him questions about his life and feeding him. It’s a scene of stark contrast to the rest of the film, a much-needed moment of peace and goodness, elevating the film from the realm of the ridiculous to a serious and important commentary on society.
I now ask one thing of you. Watch it. Watch it not because it’s a hilarious prank filled hour and a half which will have you crying with fear and laughter simultaneously. Watch it because it tells us something very important about a society which champions itself on its notions of freedom, liberty and democracy. ‘Journalists, what we gonna do?’ Borat sings to a crowd of republicans, ‘inject them with the Wuhan flu’, they respond.
Witty, illuminating and strangely heart warming, Borat 2 is a must see. It’s a comedy and a dystopian in one, and it’s important. In a nutshell, it’s very nice.
Feature image credit: Fox