Poor Kazakhstan. The giant steppe nation has a PR person’s nightmare – a world-famous comedian playing a backwards, bigoted idiot from their country in a film screening across the globe. Any attempt you make to discredit it just gives the film more publicity.
And so it’s proven – British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, the man who brought us Ali G, has struck gold with Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Kazakhstan.
Borat is a simple, straightforward and very funny film. The title character is a presenter on Kazakh TV, who lives in a shack along with a cow, his sister (number four prostitute in all Kazakhstan!) and his mother, at 43 the village’s oldest woman. Unsurprisingly, he has a few prejudices – for example, he thinks women have brains smaller than a squirrel’s, Jews can shape-shift and America is the greatest country on earth.
With this last idea in mind, Borat, his producer and a film crew decide to film a documentary about America. So they get into their car, hitch up the horses to it, and head to New York to begin to bemuse unsuspecting Americans.
Packed with racism, homophobia and sexism, this is a film that will make bleeding-heart liberals like me squirm, even though it’s all in fun. Baron Cohen, who is Jewish, is relentlessly mocking Borat’s views, as well as the almost equally redneck Americans he meets along the way.
The film is at its best in these moments, when the jaw-dropping bigotry of some of the people Borat meets is exposed. Most of the rest of the film, when Cohen is discomforting ordinary people, is less amusing, though still worth a laugh.
And – if you can put your liberal outrage into the box it should be in - there are a lot of laughs. Watch for The Running of the Jew, the naked fight, the bear, the chicken, Pamela Anderson.
Just spare a thought for those poor, poor people in the Kazakh government’s PR team – who couldn’t take the joke.