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Can one movie affect an election?
Kidding. We’re not really going to ask that again.
Such questions were routinely the subject of earnest think pieces 10 or 15 years ago, around the time when the original Borat movie was released.
But even Michael Moore’s angry box-office hit of 2004, Fahrenheit 9/11, did little to sway voters and prevent George W. Bush from decisively winning a second term.
Political satire tends to be even less successful at changing hearts and minds.
So why watch Borat 2? Pardon me, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan?
To prove to ourselves that even in a year as cringey as 2020, when all our faces look like this all the time,
Sacha Baron Cohen can still kick us in the nuts, squirt lemon juice in our eyes and make us laugh through our stinging tears.
The original Borat premiered at the Toronto International Moviefilm Festival in 2006, where Cohen made a memorable entrance in character astride a wagon pulled by supposed Kazakhstani women.
In the Covid times, we wouldn’t be graced with another such in-person atrocity, but we got the next best thing.
As the hideous, crotch-masked float confirms, you can expect plenty of cheap laughs and some Jackass-style gross-out moments in the Borat sequel — which is now streaming on Amazon Prime — though perhaps not quite as much as in the original.
What you might not expect is to feel sympathy for people who say and do hateful things, like a pair of QAnon conspiracy kooks who take the wayward foreigner on his return trip to “the U.S. and A” under their wing and try to save him from his fate, upon returning to Kazakhstan, of being torn apart by turnip-fed cows. (OK, so they’re super gullible kooks. They are conspiracy theorists after all.)
Many of Cohen’s unwitting subjects fare far worse.
It’s just as shocking as ever to see ordinary people simply accept, ignore or condone Borat’s behaviour, no matter how offensive or outrageous, such as the kindly man who helps him seal the crate in which he’s imprisoned his stowaway daughter, or the woman who cheerfully writes “Jews will not replace us 🙂” on a cake in icing letters.
So it’s truly refreshing when someone actually pushes back against Borat’s antics. Jeanise Jones, hired as a babysitter for his 15-year-old daughter Tutar, becomes the movie’s moral core, taking it upon herself to teach the girl about women’s rights, that she can refuse plastic surgery and to be given as a gift to an American with White House influence. She’s the closest thing to a hero a Cohen movie has ever produced. (There are some questions about whether Jones was in on the joke; if she was, she had me fooled.)
But the real star of the “subsequent moviefilm” is Borat’s daughter, the 24-year-old Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, whose character arc takes her from feral and grotesque to pretty and seductive. Most impressively, she is utterly fearless.
Cohen is as ballsy as ever, but Bakalova is possibly even ballsier.
Which takes us to that Rudy Giuliani moment of which so much has already been written, including by the ex-New York mayor, current Trump lawyer himself. The climax of the movie finds him in a bedroom with Bakalova after she pretends to interview him for Russian TV.
Giuliani calls the video “a complete fabrication.”
“If the president’s lawyer finds what he did there appropriate behaviour, then heaven knows what he’s done with other female journalists in hotel rooms,” Cohen told Good Morning America this week.
Watch, and rewatch, the scene, and decide for yourself. Borat, for one, is on Giuliani’s side.
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