Borat is Coming to America -- I posted a couple of nights ago about HBO's The Wire -- the best drama now running on TV. I thought I'd stick with the entertainment theme. Sacha Baron Cohen, the brilliant British comedian behind the sometimes piss-your-pants, it's hard-to-breathe funny "Da Ali G Show" (also an HBO production), is taking another one of his characters to the big screen. "Borat" is due out in November, but it' s been leaving 'em laughing in the aisles at various film festivals. I'm posting today because there's a terrific piece in the New York Times on the movie -- and, since it ran last week, you only have a couple of days to get free access to the article.
The movie's central character is a marginal TV personality in Kazakhstan, who is exploring the United States -- at least, that's the premise in the Borat sketches on the Da Ali G Show. As a result, the Kazakh government had been very critical of the movie, as the central character is a tasteless, backwards, bigoted boor, who asks a realtor if a home can be modified to have a steel-enclosed room where he can chain up his retarded brother. The Kazakhs fear the movie portrays their citizens as backwards and prejudiced. This concern misses the point. Borat could be from anywhere -- locating him in Kazakhstan allows Cohen to use a vaguely Eastern European accent and create the patina of a character that is believably out-of-step with modernity. The humor is less at his (and Kazaks' expense) as it is with the incredulous real-life Americans he runs across in his travels.
As the article in the Times notes, Cohen has turned his double-barreled humor on anti-Semitism. There are numerous scenes where Borat expresses the most outrageous anti-Semitism, including one scene where Borat explains he is driving to California, instead of flying, "in case the Jews repeat their attack of 9/11.” The movie, which is expected to be very successful, comes at an important time. Anti-Semitism is becoming far more acceptable, and certainly far more pervasive in recent years. It is an inexplicable irony of the post-9/11 world. in which anti-Muslim fears are so widespread, that anti-Jewish feeling is also on the rise. Of course, Jews have always been a scapegoat for the troubles of the time. Cohen's ability to lampoon prejudice and ignorance is unparalleled. Assuming that almost everyone gets the joke, this movie could have some impact.
The Times article is at www.nytimes.com/2006/09/07/movies/07bora.htm.