Directed by: Larry Charles
Written by: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, Pamela Anderson
Documentaries typically serve as an educational tool to shed light on a particular topic, even if it contains a political slant in its storytelling. Regardless, they remain vital. Then we have mockumentaries, which attempt to take on topics through a brazenly comedic tone and execution. When done well, they can be truly hilarious, which happened to be the case of Borat. An unbelievable filming process, which may be regressive but demonstrates complete fearlessness by its star.
Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a journalist from Kazakhstan, who has been sent to the United States to film a documentary to learn more about the supposed “greatest country in the world.” While attempting to learn more about American culture, Borat’s customs clash with western ideals, and the people filmed were unaware of what they had in store.
The experience of watching Borat begins with a cycle of it appearing to be a funny mockumentary to the shock of realizing the participants in the feature were mostly unaware of what Sacha Baron Cohen would be doing with this character. Learning more about the behind-the-scenes process of this feature makes it even more shocking to see what the final product became. It begins with Borat leaving his town in Kazakhstan, where he essentially mocks his own people with how primitive and behind they are before heading to the United States. He lands in the country to culture shock the people he interacts with. While Borat’s mission remains to capture more about the United States, it shifts when he falls in love with Pamela Anderson through an episode of Baywatch, and becomes determined to marry her.
All of the segments with other people are shocking because they’ve all been made to believe it was a genuine documentary of a man from Kazakhstan trying to learn more about this nation. All of the individuals signed a release to avoid any litigation on the back end, which allowed Sacha Baron Cohen to then unleash the wildness of this character. Segment after segment stunned me with how the man could keep a straight face while the real people genuinely could not fathom what he was doing. The scene where he interacts with a feminist group made me want to sink into my seat. It shows the women trying to genuinely educate him on the tenets of feminism, while he mocks it with a straight face. Their shock at what he said during their conversation showed some incredible patience until it ran out.
So many moments throughout the film showed the ugly side of this nation and the way Borat would toy with them made it so funny. In one scene, he gets in a vehicle with some fraternity brothers from a southern college, where he goads them into saying offensive material, which they gladly accept and genuinely jump on. These college guys say some heinous things, which only makes the premiere of this film and their wide-scale embarrassment funnier when they try to contextualize their ignorance. While the film genuinely has some incredible comedy, I more so respect the effort by Sacha Baron Cohen as he fully goes for it. The sheer bravery it takes to look people in the eye and represent such a regressive person without breaking shows some incredible skill. This comes from someone who could not successfully complete a prank call when younger. Borat became the most elaborate prank call ever made.
With the comedy comes the shortfalls and those who did not deserve to be mocked. While people like the fraternity brothers should have been exposed for their vile beliefs, the character of Borat represents a stereotype of eastern people with regressive beliefs. It paints a picture of a culture, which Americans always put into a monolith as a group of people behind the times. While the comedy works, the underlying impact builds upon those harmful beliefs. It occurs at its worst at the beginning where it films at a Romanian village named Glod. The people there could not understand what he said and participated with the filming as Sacha Baron Cohen spoke about how they must be from the middle ages with their practices. Something that did not sit well with them upon the film’s release, as they learned how they have been portrayed.
Borat will make you laugh, cringe, and make you want to close your eyes from the awkward situations the titular character finds himself in. It makes for an incredibly unique feature film experience with the sheer lunacy taking place as Borat travels the nation and makes fools of the people inhabiting it. The movie shows what people say when they’re comfortable and who stands by their principles. It serves as a reflection of our culture and it holds nothing back in that regard. Certainly, a film worth experiencing because Sacha Baron Cohen does something incredibly special and deserves praise.