Friday, December 15, 2006

 

A Film Review Of 'Borat'

It could be seen as a little ironic that in the year the studios attempted to get serious, and offered viewers the chance to peruse films about McCarthy or the troubles in the Middle East, the film that has caused the greatest critical schisms is a self-consciously vulgar narrative about a fake Kazakh journalist crossing America in order to receive some personal and national 'cultural learnings'. That such cultural learnings include naked wrestling, pubic hair as currency and Pamela Anderson surely won't have shocked a world that saw a scene involving Carmen Electra playing a blind woman taking a voluble shit in front of a crowded room in 'Scary Movie 4' played as a comedic highlight earlier this year.

A little more surprising, however, is the way the film has become a critical line in the sand, operating as a demarcation point for those critics unwilling to accept without question comedy of belittlement and grotesquerie. Director Larry Charles and provacateur Sacha Baron Cohen utilise every weapon available in their apparent quest to find the Holy Grail (a film that offends everybody, and is, therefore, in the minds of the target audience, young white men, a near nirvana of crushed social expectations). Perhaps it's Borat's unique combination of racial slurs, grossly de-eroticised sexuality and involvement of an apparently frequently unsuspecting public that provoked such strong reactions.

Or, more likely perhaps, it is the inspired marketing campaign that accompanied the film. Traditionally, it is horror films that were marketed upon the basis of how they broke laws, offended morals and were generally indecent, a bit of rough. Of course, one can go back to the 1920s and onwards to find many examples of these, but in the modern era, the template for the 'shock horror!' style of horror film marketing is Michael and Roberta Findlay's 'Snuff', which was a particularly dull slasher movie with an arguably realistic looking 'real' murder tacked on the end. The producer Allan Shackleton came up with the brilliantly inventive idea of forming outraged pickets against his own film in order to increase publicity. Ever since, horror films at the more extreme end of the market have sought notoriety through inflaming opinion. 'Borat' is arguably the first example of a succesful application of this policy to a comedy.

For it is impossible to analyse 'Borat' without analysing the real-world response the film has provoked. The ludicrous, parodic PR tour of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev and the endless post-release lawsuits merely engorge the film's already inflated cultural position. Whether or not the filmmakers are found guilty is irrelevant financially and, more importantly, confirms to a public keen to taste fresh provocation from studio comedies that have become stale from repetition and predictability that this is a film that Does Something, and that that Something must be important because people are upset about it.

The viewer's opinion on what the film achieves or fails to achieve hinges upon two key factors - readiness to accept the film's quasi-political message, and an acceptance of the transformation of unwitting civilians into roundly derided figures of fun. Arguably, the latter can be justified by the former, but the political message is less clear than some seem to believe. The film contains a coda, in which we see Borat, proudly standing in a new, less primitive Kazakhstan. One joke, hinging upon Borat's superiority in poverty to his next-door neighbour, is mirrored from the start, with Borat now appearing superior in poverty-lite. The overall effect of the coda is to enforce a classic rags-to-riches narrative arc on the proceedings, for both man and nation.

(Incidentally, this is far from the worst example of a terribly thought-out epilogue from 2006. That honour surely has to go to 'Confetti', which has an epilogue in which two of the main characters - the naturist couple - renounce the lifestyle that has been their only signifier throughout the film. Stripped of that, they are characters without a point - a complete waste of all the previous characterisation. You see, this is why they make films with scripts, so they actually make sense!)

Cohen's political point, if indeed it could be called that, is wholly generic - it turns out that some people in the southern states are a bit racist, and that men don't like being kissed by other men. If this is homophobia, class me a homophobe. Those at the sharp end of the pranks are generally helpful and sincere - even the small number who reveal views that are genuinely revolting do so in a spirit of camaraderie and banter. None of this is to say that these people don't deserve their comeuppance, but it does blunt its polemical effectiveness. Leo Goldsmith is right when he states that they generally 'deserve their treatment, if only for their extreme self-seriousness and their gullible willingness to believe that such primitive, socially retarded people as Borat actually exist overseas', but no-one should mistake their humiliation for enlightenment instead of entertainment.

So, ultimately, the only measure of the films success is whether or not it makes you laugh - and of course it did, though in patches, mostly when Cohen was showing the verbal dexterity that was a hallmark of 'Da Ali G Show' in its best years. Nobody can deny how quick he is thinking on his feet, and it is in the improvisatory, rather than staged, sequences that the film shines. Watching Cohen berate an uncomprehending woman for shrinking people into the dolls she's throwing out in a yard sale is far cleverer than an endless, five minute naked wrestling scene, particularly since Cohen presumably worked out his career would hardly benefit from an extended look at his penis, and so an improbably large strategic bar defends what's left of his modesty - a somewhat surprising copout in a film so apparently determined to mine the bottom of the barrel in a quest for provocative revulsion. Illuminating, but only very dimly, and amusing, but only occasionally, it was the most succesful failure of 2006.

Comments:
Overall Borat was a dissappointment, it simply wasn't as funny as i had been led to believe. Although there were some great moments: the dinner party in the deep south where he invites the prostitute along being one of my favourite parts, there weren't enough to live up to the hype.

I don't think it was that offensive, it made fools of those who made the iffy comments,thereby countering their effect. i am not easily offended though i must say!
 
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