Film Reviews

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Larry Charles

Rating - 7/10

Rarely have I been relishing the prospect of a trip to the flicks quite so much. Rarely has chatter at work been so singularly focussed on a new release. Even more rarely, the mainstream press seemed unified in their praise for Sacha Baren-Cohen's creation, Borat: ten out of ten from the Guardian and an eight from the Independent. Only the Times suggested shortcomings, with a non-committal six.

Sold out last week, a packed cinema last night, the stage was set.

Opening sequence, a Kazakhstan village. Borat jovially introduces the local rapist, berates his neighbour in pidgin Kazakh for being an 'asshole' and then snogs his sister. Cue laughter/disgust/apprehension from the audience. The tone is set.

A précis of the plot then, if you will. Borat's a Kazakstani TV personality, newsman and commentator on events such as 'run the Jew'. Dispatched by the Ministry to the USA in an effort to uncover the secrets of culture and civilisation, Borat soon becomes sidetracked after a chance exposure to Baywatch's CJ Parker on a hotel TV set in New York. Mesmerized by her beauty, convinced she is 'virgin' and obsessed by her 'vagine,' the journey detours towards California, in search of Pammy. With crew - including repulsive producer Azamat Bagatov - in tow, the bumbling and cringeworthy frontman proceeds to offend his way across the southern states.

The film boasts that most of the interactions between Borat and the locals are spontaneous and unscripted. With comic gift and admirable bravado abound, he coaxes them into ignorant outbursts and outrageous comment. At a rodeo arena, he takes the mic and whips the crowd up into a disturbing frenzy of anti-Iraqi fervour. A performance of the national anthem, with alternative lyrics, follows, and the audience turn nasty. In other scenes, he makes some rank faux pas in order to provoke his subject - the look on the local pastor's face when Borat offends his wife springs to mind - and it's not long before a splurge of racist hatred or xenophobia comes flooding out.

Thankfully though, this is no self-righteous Michael Moore rant, for there is plenty here to reassure us that Americans aren't all bad. An old Jewish couple show wonderful hospitality, an antique shop-owner shows remarkable restraint when Borat destroys half his shop, and a car salesmen, despite Borat's best efforts, refuses to utter the phrase 'pussy magnet.'

There's an abundance of hilarious schoolboy humour here - sexual innuendo, hairy bottoms, naked wrestling, silly accents, sizeable prostitutes and delightful irreverence - but this is neatly offset by the rather more serious point Baron Cohen makes: that a country that prides itself on embracing the values of freedom, democracy and integration contains frightening elements of right wing fanaticism and gross intolerance.

The film's what you make it: uproarious if that's what you're after; a political comment if you're more discerning and a toe-curler if you've taken your in-laws. On the downside, it was smattered with predictability and some of Baron Cohen's antics just seem a tad mean.

The audience dissipated. Some were crying, some blushing, and others had holes in their shoes.