“BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM”
“BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM”
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova, Dani Popescu
Written by Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoia, Dan Swimer
Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Nina Pedrad, Dan Swimer
Directed by Jason Woliner
Produced by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Jonathan Levene, Monica Levinson, Dan Mazer, Stuart Miller, Nina Pedrad, Erica Rivinoia, Dan Swimer
Cinematography by Luke Geissbuhler
Edited by Craig Alpert, Michael Giambra and James Thomas
Music by Erran Baron Cohen
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” or, if you prefer the full title, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” which is Sacha Baron Cohen’s sequel to “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” from 2006, is excellent, hilarious, and joyfully, crazily filled with Cohen’s unique, original–and funny–brand of cutting-edge, biting, revealing and insightful political, cultural, social and even psychological satire. And this is satire that exposes the inherent racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia and insane far-right, lunatic-fringe conspiracy theories of the world’s desperate, bizarro yahoos, rednecks, crackers, poseurs, paranoid crazies and certain types of far-right-leaning conservatives.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” also just happens to be one of the best films released so far in 2020. The movie is scheduled to be released nationwide on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, October 23, 2020. This is indeed one of those rare times with Hollywood releases when a movie sequel matches the original, deserves just as much praise, analysis, discussion and viewing as the original, and is just as fun, funny, insightful, intelligent and entertaining as the original. For this reason alone, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is worth your time–take the time, sit back, watch this movie, laugh, enjoy, and, yes, worry, too, about the fact that the real, actual idiotic people that Cohen as Borat exposes actually exist, work, play, scheme and live and breathe among us in the real world.
Yes, we all know that morons and idiots exist among us in the real world–we learn that early in life, of course. But it’s the manner in which Cohen as Borat exposes the very real and scary rawness and realness of particular racist and lunatic-fringe morons and idiots that is truly the basic core and foundation of not only Cohen’s two “Borat” movies, but much of his other work in general. Cohen simply excels at using various means of hidden camera trickery and other ruses, such as elaborate disguises and fake personnas, to expose these people for what they truly are. It’s not pretty, but, as Cohen clearly understands, comedy–and reality–are not pretty.
It’s important to continually expose the types of dangerous, racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist, backwards, ignorant and clueless Neanderthals that Cohen/Borat exposes, even if we know that they’re out there, because the more that morons and idiots such as this are exposed, the more the intelligent, progressive, educated world can fight them, beat them back (figuratively, not literally), and send them back to whatever prehistoric caveman era they somehow evolved from. This is why we have, and the world needs, a free media–to expose, on a daily basis, the problems not just with these types of people in society, but society’s problems, scandals, corruption, propaganda and other ills in general (in addition to reporting the daily news, of course). Media of all types–including satiric films such as the Borat films–exists, in part, to continually expose the problematic ills and ailments of society–and society’s less-educated, more-ignorant people. Thus, it’s a revelation and a celebration to see these morons and idiots so clearly, sharply, evidently, directly and honestly exposed as the cretins, dregs, meatheads, blockheads and dunderheads that they truly are in Cohen’s “Borat” films.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” does not disappoint on this level. In the sequel, as in the original film, Cohen cleverly, hilariously portrays Borat Sagdiyev, a blissfully clueless airhead journalist from Kazakhstan whose equally blissfully clueless road adventures through the darker, more stupid, more horrific corners of the United States lead him to encounter the aforementioned yahoos, rednecks, crackers, morons and idiots–with some of these thugs frighteningly occupying positions of actual power and influence. Cohen-as-Borat excels in gaining the initial trust of these horrid people, weaseling his way into their hearts and minds, and then carefully, slowly, slyly and expertly using that position of trust and sympathy to impel these folks to burst through their protective psychological bubbles and walls of defense to let their inner demons explode into public conversational view–complete with, again, racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, conspiratorial, backwards, ignorant, flat-out wrong, lying and even paranoid delusional statements, discussions, viewpoints and general rantings and ravings. And, again, despite the shock value, the cringe-worthiness, the frightening nature of this pure reality, it’s also concurrently hilarious, satirical, revelatory, noteworthy and important–all hallmarks of the very best in political, cultural and social satire.
In the sequel, Borat is shown at the outset slaving away (that’s not an offensive use of the term–he is truly enslaved) at a horrendous hard-labor prison camp in his native Kazakhstan, having been imprisoned by authorities in the wake of his documentary antics from the first film because the country’s authoritarian, equally-clueless leaders were embarrassed by Borat’s behavior and actions during that initial fact-finding mission. However, now the authorities call for Borat to be released from prison to take on another mission to America, this time to offer a prized live monkey–an object of high value in this fictional version of Kazakhstan–to “vice premier” “Mike Pennis” to make amends for Borat’s original behavior. Thus, Borat is freed from prison, given what appears to be a handsome budget for his new road trip, and instructed to go to the U.S. to make political, cultural, social and diplomatic peace and amends with U.S. leaders.
However, a slight slip-up occurs and Borat’s fetching 15-year-old daughter Tutar arrives in the U.S. to accompany Borat on his journey, instead of the monkey. Thus, Borat gets a new mission–to present his daughter to a high-ranking U.S. official, in place of the monkey.
That’s the premise for Borat and Tutar to embark on their cross-country road trip adventure, and the requisite hilariousness and satire begins, with Cohen and his coterie of skilled satire and parody writers making sure that Borat and Tutar subsequently visit a demon’s gallery collection of moron and idiot gatherings in those dark, dangerous corners of the country: A women’s-only conservative Republican club that appears to be something straight out of 1930; a Georgia debutante ball–really, Georgia, a debutante ball in 2019 and 2020? Are you serious?–that appears to be something straight out of 1830; a far-far-right gun rights outdoor hootenanny that appears to be something straight out of the seventh circle of hell itself; the secluded mountain home of two conspiratorial, delusional redneck yahoos who seem to exist in a world straight out of Ted Nugent’s and Tucker Carlson’s most fevered and revered redneck dark fantasy worlds; a religious counseling office that appears to be stuck in the puritanical Pilgrim Old World of the 1600s; a shady, suspicious cosmetic surgery place that should probably be investigated by the requisite jurisdictional health and regulatory officials; the utter horrorshow that is the annual cult gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC–which, in recent years, has been held for some reason in the politically-left-leaning P.G. County in Maryland; and, perhaps scariest of all, a hotel room meeting with scary monster Rudy Guiliani, who ends up voluntarily providing the truly scariest–and most revelatory–moment in this movie.
It’s not spoiling the enjoyment of watching the movie to reveal just a few of the astonishing streams of demonic vile, bile, lies and ignorance that spew forth from the minds and mouths of these creatures that Borat and Tutar encounter on their own journey of intellectual exorcism, acting much like Father Karras and Father Merrin in “The Exorcist” in trying to expose and counter the hellish demons lurking amongst us.
In one scene, the two men in that secluded mountain home–which seems to exist in some combined otherworld that exists in some weird welding of the back swamps of “Deliverance” and the home of the family in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”–when asked by Borat which is more dangerous–“the virus or Democrats”–the men actually answer “Democrats” and nod their heads approvingly. Then, one of them actually, casually spews forth a non-ironic, non-self-aware explanation of the most outrageous, hideous, stupid–and of course unproven–aspects of the QAnon conspiracy theory dark-matter-of-the-brain universe. Borat, as usual and to Cohen’s eternal credit as an actor staying in character, just sits there, listens and nods his head accordingly as if he believes every word. It’s astonishing, it’s frightening, and it’s funny as hell.
In another, equally frightening scene, Borat disguises himself as someone named “Country Joe,” figuratively hijacks that scary gun rights rally, and goes up on stage and sings a song with clearly far-right lyrics that attack everything truthful and hint at underlying racist views–and the enthusiastic crowd of crackers eat it up, and they smile, laugh, and sing right along to the ignorant, racist lyrics. It’s astonishing, it’s frightening, and it’s funny as hell.
And then there’s the scene with Rudy Giuliani–which is astonishing and frightening, but not funny at all. In the scene, Tutar is working as a credentialed journalist and the character scores an actual, real, non-scripted interview with Giuliani–in a hotel room. She proceeds to ask Giuliani questions–but throughout the initial part of the interview, which is in the living area of the larger hotel suite, Giuliani consistently smiles, sneers, leers and flirts with Tutar–in a type of oddball, old-geezer, slightly-crazy manner. It should be noted that in the context of the movie, Tutar is 15 years old, but it’s not readily apparent that the Tutar character–who is played by a 24-year-old actress, Maria Bakalova–ever identifies herself as a teenager to Giuliani. Nevertheless, it’s what happens next that’s truly frightening. Tutar invites Giuliani into the suite’s bedroom after the interview, and off they go. Giuliani sits on the bed, pats Tutar on the back–and then asks for her phone number. Next–get ready–Giuliani leans back on the bed, sticks his hand down his pants, and appears to fondle his nether region private parts, right in front of the Tutar character. It’s amazing that anyone would do this so blatantly, it’s amazing that a man who identifies himself as a personal lawyer to the President of the United States of America would do this so blatantly, and it’s amazing that any man would do this in the MeToo sexual-harassment era that the world currently exists in.
The scene is only interrupted when Borat–dressed in a wig and what appears to be a bikini–abruptly bursts into the room, announces that Tutar is only 15, tells Giuliani that “she’s too old for you,” and offers himself instead to Giuliani. Guiliani, clearly startled, surprised, frustrated and embarrassed, quickly leaves the room and, according to some reports, he actually called the police! On the grounds of journalistic fairness, Giuliani on Wednesday, October 21, 2020, as word got out about the scene, said he did nothing wrong, had no intentions of doing anything wrong, and was simply tucking in his shirt after he had removed his microphone. “The Borat video is a complete fabrication. I was tucking in my shirt after taking off the recording equipment,” Giuliani wrote on Twitter, according to a Vanity Fair report. “At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar.”
However, for many people, including this reviewer, when one watches this scene in its entire context–in all journalistic, fairness and objectivity and professionalism–honestly–it does appear that Guiliani is doing more than simply tucking in his shirt in the scene in the movie. That’s not an accusation or an allegation–it’s an objective filmic observation.
Nevertheless, beyond this and other similarly cringy, revealing scenes that expose the aforementioned prejudices, biases and paranoid delusional conspiratorial ignorant thinking of dangerous people, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” actually has some other welcome elements that equally lift up the movie to other verryyy niiice, excellent, enjoyable levels: several scenes of actual, heartfelt common sense from some absolutely wonderful, even heroic people–whether scripted, improved or real, the scenes ring very true in their down-home emotion. And–really–this movie actually has a heart lurking beneath the controlled madness and craziness and comedy. Yes, amid all of the hidden-camera, “Candid Camera” pranks, pratfalls, slapstick and satire, this “Borat” sequel actually has an emotion-laden human heart. That heart revolves around Borat’s evolving love, affection and respect for his equally-evolving daughter, and Borat’s breakthrough in breaking down his Old World, authoritarian home-country misogynistic views. Yes, much like the humble but equally stupid and racist and backward townfolk, say, of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles,” who came to appreciate their non-white frontier brethen and accept them as equals amid an equally madcap, brazen and daring comedy, even a character as blatantly backwards as Borat can indeed have a change of heart and even evolve into at least a portion and corner of the modern world. And Borat’s change of heart is even funny.
(It should be noted that much of Borat’s comedy owes a clear homage and respect to Brooks and his equally daring pokes and prods at racism, anti-Semitism and general Old World ignorance and hate in his films. Of course, there’s many others, too, who came before Cohen in tackling these areas in film, but one of the clearest comedic and filmic ancestral lines does go straight from Brooks to Cohen.)
It’s not a spoiler to address these elements of actual heart and caring in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” because this underlying sense of true emotion is worth noting because these elements add to the enjoyment and uniqueness of the film.
The two common sense people who, through their straight-ahead, down-home and caring advice, rise to the level of heroic–in any context, but especially in the context of this film and amid the other scary people–are a well-meaning, kind and motherly woman who looks after Tutar one night–and proceeds to tell her that the Old World misogynistic propaganda that her father and others have been feeding her are all lies, and that Tutar needs to take hold of her life, move on and move on up. This same woman also tells Borat to get his act together and take care of his daughter. It’s not clear, amid Cohen’s world of filmmaking, whether these scenes with this woman are scripted, rehearsed, improved–or captured on hidden camera. But it doesn’t matter, because the words that this woman imparts to Tutar and Borat provide a complete contradiction to the other morons, and her words provide some sense of hope that there are indeed decent, positive, uplifting people in this world. We all know there are good people in the world, too, but here, amid a satirical film, sometimes we just need to see and hear from these people.
The other hero in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is a woman who, out of nowhere, suddenly provides the most touching, emotional and heartfelt scene in the movie. Judith Dim Evans, a real-life Holocaust survivor, along with another equally caring and courageous Jewish woman, encounter Borat in the pews of an otherwise empty, comfortable, welcoming synagogue. Borat, the character, is struggling with some inner conflicts and depression in the scene, and he decides to visit a synagogue to address his inner anti-Semitism, looking for some type of answer and epiphany. What actually occurs will move you–because Cohen, and Borat, unexpectedly receive their own epiphany. While Borat is obviously a raging anti-Semite in the scene, Evans and her friend confront Borat calmly, coolly, smoothly, intelligently, and even caringly. They don’t yell, they don’t scream, they don’t argue, they simply show Borat, Cohen–and all of the rest of us–that they are, yes, Jewish people, but that they are also just people, they are human beings, and that they are, in the end, the same as everyone else on this planet. Evans tells Borat, a Holocaust denier, that the Holocaust did indeed happen–because she, Evans, is a Holocaust survivor. Borat receives his epiphany, Evans comes through as a caring, kind, insightful and perceptive hero, and Cohen and his crew strike cinematic gold. The scene with Borat, Evans and her friend is just as revelatory and important as the exposure of the morons and idiots in the other scenes. These women, too, show that there are indeed good people in the world.
Sadly, in real life, Evans died before the release of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Her family sued Cohen, claiming that she did not give her permission to be filmed. Cohen insists that he did indeed properly tell Evans that Borat was a fictious character, that he was filming a satire, that he received her permission, and that the whole point of the scene was indeed to counter Holocaust deniers and show that the Holocaust was real.
There is a good account of the situation in Deadline Hollywood. According to Deadline Hollywood:
The suit claims Evans participated not knowing she was in a satire, one the suit claims was done to “mock the Holocaust and Jewish culture.” While the lawsuit might well reverberate in the press, sources close to the filmmakers tell me that there might well be a change of heart after the movie is seen because the whole point of including Dim Evans was to do exactly the opposite. And she was clued in on the gag after it was shot and there is footage of it.
Baron Cohen dedicates the movie to Evans, who died after filming. I’m told that he for the first time while making one of his movies — where most everyone but him is an unwitting participant — out of respect he had someone tell Evans and the friend who shares the scene with her that Baron Cohen himself is Jewish and playing an ignorant character as a means of Holocaust education, by featuring a Holocaust survivor who ends up challenging the anti-Semite by charmingly telling her own story. The filmmakers separately helped other family members of Dim Evans to create a website in her honor, and I’ve heard that Baron Cohen and Amazon Prime created a way through its X-Ray bonus content for viewers of the film to hear Evans tell the story of what happened to her family during WWII.
Back to the film review:
Additionally, Cohen dedicates the movie to Judith Dim Evans. The website in her honor is https://www.judithdimevans.com/.
When a Holocaust survivor as wonderful and heroic as Judith Dim Evans breaks through all of the comedy and satire and steals a film such as “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” well, you know you have something important going on, again, beyond the basic satire and parody.
On that positive note, in honor of Evans, and in honor of what “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” manages to accomplish on several levels, and besides noting that the movie is smart, clever, funny, revelatory, astonishing, scary and entertaining, the highest compliment one could give to the film is that it’s a very nice filmic, political, cultural and social mitzvah.