Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006)
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Borat for short) has been greeted with hype long before its release in theaters. Portions edited out of the less than 90-minute feature have landed in Youtube and other video-sharing websites to the delight of those who are eagerly awaiting to be delightfully offended by the made-up Kazakh reporter, conceived and played by Brit-Jewish comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Way before Borat was actually seen by majority of its rabid followers, the media has hounded the character. Cohen has made countless appearances in late night shows (as Borat of course), bragging about all the publicity his movie has gathered, all the lawsuits that have piled upon his lap, and all the hype his film has made upon itself.
The plot basically follows Borat Sagdiyev from his native country Kazakhstan (well, it really could've been any country) who is sent to America with his producer Azamat Bagatov (a very courageous Ken Davitian --- those who've seen the film would know why) to make a documentary about America, well, for the benefit of his glorious nation (really now?). He discovers virginal beauty (yeah right?) of Pamela Anderson while watching an episode of Baywatch in his hotel room. He convinces his producer to a cross-country trip to Malibu, California. The plot is as thin as onion skin, but it does make a good excuse for Borat to visit the many cultural landmarks of America: NYC, Atlanta, Texas, California.
Impressively, Borat succeeds beyond expectations. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. I'm sure many will be offended since there's so much to be offended about. Cohen does not hold back --- Gays, Jews, Feminists, Rednecks, and of course the glorious nation of Kazakhstan have been offended by the comedian's deceptive filmmaking in the guise of a real documentary. Yet, interestingly, it is that film's irreverent and disrespectful nature that makes it absolutely hilarious. Borat merely provides for a vehicle to invite America's well-kept xenophobia or the social dynamics that have kept the intolerance into passable norms --- and it's all funny. We laugh when a guy suddenly runs for his life when the smiling Borat greets him with a man-to-man peck. We chuckle when Borat's supposed ignorance is exchanged with a lack of patience and understanding by the feminists (who themselves have worked decades for equality). True, it's all a joke, but part of the joke is the fact that the joke is played on us, on our own ignorance and xenophobia; and it's such a beautiful experience to hear and see the audience laugh their hearts out knowing that.
Of course, that's my take on the film's undeniable humor and I have to admit that's a bit of rationalization on my part: Borat is indeed a guilty pleasure. It is also an offensive and obnoxious piece of entertainment. It's the type of entertainment that will drive people into two different opposing camps: those who buy it as funny and accept its offensiveness as mere tools for laughter, and those who take it seriously and are too uptight to open their hearts for a bit of self-ridicule (the way Cohen did as he is Jewish, and much of the film's humor may be deemed anti-Semitic). As for me, with all the problems of the world, I'm grateful for this film who sees beyond the seriousness of the world's conflicts and notes with a drip of limit-breaking irreverence that at some point of our day-to-day pondering and reflection, a hearty laugh might actually help.