“I found a new book which only tells the truth. It’s called Facebook. I learn so many facts there.” – Sandra Jessica Parker Sagdiyev
Underneath all of the shock and vulgarity in “Borat Subsequent Film” (2020) there’s a determination from the artist to hold a mirror in front of us– to expose and confront our societal and political malaises and hypocrisies. It’s that urgency that I find quite moving. Sacha Baron Cohen is a satirical and intelligent man on a mission. After a few weeks in which we haven’t had much to smile about – I found myself with a big Cheshire cat grin watching the shenanigans. In quite a few moments, I juddered in laughter. I’m also glad I waited to see the sequel until the election had taken place. Its serum feels truly cathartic.
I was a big fan of “Borat” – the high wire mockumentary unleashed in 2006. The Oscar nominated film followed the fictionalized Kazakhstani journalist created and embodied by Cohen as he spouted shocking viewpoints, exposed social proscriptions and used risqué language and conduct at unsuitable moments. Following a tradition started by Groucho Marx (I just realized their connection with their similar mustaches), Borat’s fearlessness of being offensive or politically incorrect totally unbalances and disarms you. His main subject of skewering both in 2006 and 2020 is the United States -and its blatant racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny that have been exasperated by our current administration. There was a dynamic that I found questionable albeit enjoyable from the first film – the fact that comedic situations were achieved by pranking people by dubious means. After the past four years of “fake news,” things have changed – you might still feel a degree of schadenfreude – but the comeuppance feels …uh…merited.
There’s also a spectacular discovery in the new film– and it is the Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova in the role of Borat’s 14-year old daughter, Sandra Jessica Paker Sagdiyev or “Tutar.” This is a fantastic performance. Bakalova is very much Sacha Baron Cohen’s equal and brings a level of empathy and commitment to the role that is transfixing. She should be in serious consideration for a Best Supporting Actress Nomination. She has a compelling arc where she goes from an insulated and brainwashed upbringing – in which she was taught that women are properties to be kept literally in a cage – to becoming a liberated woman. I found quite endearing her watching a Disney-like movie about the US first lady. “I will be the next Queen Melania! She’s the happiest wife in the world,” she exclaims. Hers is not a caricature – it’s a believable multi-dimensional creation. There are two scenes that prove her mettle – a flabbergasting dance with Borat in front of disgusted attendants at a debutante ball, and her now infamous entrapment of Rudy Giuliani in a hotel room. Despite the latter having been extensively covered in the media, its impact cannot be spoiled. I can’t believe the actress’ bravery in that moment with the Mayor. We root for Tutar so much – and her emancipation becomes heroic.
The least you know about the film the better. After serving 14 years in a labor camp for internationally embarrassing its country, Borat is offered release with the condition that he performs a special mission. He gets into the good graces of the United States by delivering a special gift to one of the high-ranking officials of the government led by “a magnificent new Premier named McDonald Trump.”
Shot during the pandemic, the film addresses our country’s response to it, the smugness and questioning of its very existence. Other subjects include abortion rights, plastic surgery, technology, freedom rallies, Holocaust denial, social media misinformation, and many other timely topics.
Cohen is an equally opportunity satirist – cruelly lacerating, and brilliant.
Tutar: “Daddy, a woman can own a business?”
Borat: “No, when a woman owns a business her brain breaks and her head falls off.”
Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video
Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman and Lee Kern
Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer and Nina Pedrad
Based on the character by Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by Jason Woliner
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova
About Actor, Creator and Co-Writer Sacha Baron Cohen
Baron Cohen was born into a devout Jewish family, and he studied history at the University of Cambridge. After deciding to pursue a career in entertainment, in 1998 he joined the television comedy series “The 11 O’Clock Show,” for which he created the character Ali G, a “hip-hop journalist” who was aggressively stupid. With his over-the-top attire—a brightly coloured tracksuit, tinted sunglasses, and designer skullcap—mangled English, and outlandish questions, Ali G interviewed unsuspecting actual politicians and celebrities and in the process revealed their prejudices and ignorance. His phenomenal popularity led to “Da Ali G Show” in 2000. Baron Cohen soon introduced two other clueless characters: Borat, a racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist Kazakh reporter, and Brüno, a gay Austrian fashion reporter. In 2001 both the show and Baron Cohen earned British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards. After making his film debut in “Ali G Indahouse” (2002), Baron Cohen sought new unwitting subjects, and in 2003–04 “Da Ali G Show” aired in the United States on the cable channel HBO. Baron Cohen subsequently focused on his film career. Beginning in 2005, he provided the voice of the king of the lemurs in the animated “Madagascar” series, and he appeared as a French race-car driver opposite Will Ferrell in the comedy “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” in 2006. That year, though, it was “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” that made Baron Cohen a household name. Borat’s encounters with unsuspecting Americans as he traveled across the United States provided for outrageous and often cringe-inducing moments—a gun-store owner suggests the best gun for shooting a Jew, and several fraternity brothers wish for the return of slavery. Not everyone appreciated the humour. Several people featured in the film sued, and the government of Kazakhstan took out newspaper ads to counter the movie’s unflattering portrayal. “Borat” earned Baron Cohen a Golden Globe Award for best actor in a comedy as well as an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay.
In 2007 Baron Cohen appeared as the victim of a homicidal barber (played by Johnny Depp) in the Tim Burton film “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Two years later he brought “Brüno” to the big screen in an eponymous feature. Baron Cohen subsequently announced that he was retiring the character, as he had previously done with “Borat” and “Ali G.” In 2011 he appeared in Martin Scorsese’s family-oriented fantasy “Hugo” as a self-important Parisian train station agent. For his next starring vehicle, “The Dictator” (2012), Baron Cohen created a new comedic character—the despotic military ruler of a fictitious North African country. He subsequently portrayed the wicked Thénardier in a 2012 film adaptation of the musical “Les Misérables.” Baron Cohen co-wrote and starred in “The Brothers Grimsby” (2016), a spy comedy in which he played the hapless brother of an assassin (Mark Strong), and he portrayed the villainous Time in “Alice Through the Looking Glass” (2016). He then debuted the television series “Who Is America?” in 2018, once again creating several outlandish characters to interview unsuspecting politicians and celebrities to reveal their prejudices. The next year the comedian assumed a more serious role when he was cast as Israeli operative Eli Cohen in the TV series “The Spy.” Baron Cohen then played Abbie Hoffman in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (2020), a film about a group of political activists who were tried for their antiwar activities during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Also in 2020 he brought Borat out of retirement for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” which notably featured Rudy Guiliani, U.S. Pres. Donald Trump’s personal attorney, in one of its pranks. (britannica.com)
Sacha Baron Cohen on the Making of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
Sacha Baron Cohen has published an op-ed for Time magazine in which he details a few moments throughout his professional life where he’s feared for his life. One such moment occurred during the making of his film “Bruno” during a comedy stunt where Cohen, in character, made out with his opponent in an MMA fighting ring while in front of a homophobic crowd. “In Arkansas, I posed as an ultimate fighter at a cage match and challenged anyone in the audience to take me on,” Cohen writes. “When my fake ex-boyfriend volunteered, we engaged in some heavy petting, triggering a near riot. The crowd—including some recently paroled prisoners with swastika tattoos—erupted in homophobic slurs and started hurling metal chairs at us. Had I not ducked into a trapdoor and out an escape tunnel, I think the crowd would have beaten me senseless.” Cohen also feared for his life during the making of his “Borat” sequel, officially titled “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” Cohen made headlines over the summer when he showed up at a far-right rally in Washington and got attendees to sing a racist song with him, but what people didn’t see was the riot that broke out afterwards. “When organizers finally stormed the stage, I rushed to a nearby get-away vehicle,” Cohen writes. “An angry crowd blocked our way and started pounding on the vehicle with their fists. Under my overalls, I was wearing a bulletproof vest, but it felt inadequate with some people outside toting semiautomatic weapons. When someone ripped open the door to drag me out, I used my entire body weight to pull the door back shut until our vehicle maneuvered free. I was fortunate to make it out in one piece.” (indiewire.com)
About Actor Maria Bakalova
The Bulgarian Bakalova had a few credits to her name when she heard about a mysterious audition for a “big Hollywood movie.” She did a self-tape and was asked to come in for an audition, but admits she was suspicious. “I called my manager and he was like, ‘I promise you, they won’t kidnap you, they won’t sell your organs and they won’t kill you,” Bakalova recalls. She eventually learned what the secret project was and met her future co-star, Cohen. Though at the time she had never seen the original “Borat,” Bakalova had recently watched him on the miniseries “The Spy” – in a completely dramatic role. (She has since caught up on the original “Borat,” of course.) The audition process was lengthy and extremely secretive – she says her own parents didn’t know what the movie was about until they saw the trailer. But Bakalova clicked with Cohen early on. At an early work session, she remembers thinking that even if the movie didn’t work out, she hoped she could see him again someday. “I honestly can say that … I love him as my other parent. I trust him, he believed in me and we created this project that is like our baby – but not in a weird way,” she laughs. That love and trust went a long way when the two were filming some of the more outrageous scenes, but Bakalova says she never felt she was in jeopardy. During the now-famous scene with Rudy Giuliani she notes there was a moment of concern because he was calling the cops – but even if they went to jail, “we would be together” and she was safe. (variety.com)
About Director Jason Woliner
Jason Woliner is a writer, director, and former actor. He was the non-performing member of the comedy group Human Giant, alongside writer/performers Aziz Ansari, Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel. Woliner directed the bulk of the group’s output, including their sketch comedy show that ran for two seasons on MTV. He also directed and co-wrote “RAAAAAANDY,” which was produced by Judd Apatow, and has directed episodes of “Parks and Recreation,” “New Girl,” “Nathan for You,” and “Last Man on Earth.” Recently, he directed the filmed segments on Netflix’s “W/ Bob & David.” From 2011, Jason directed and co-wrote three seasons of the surreal action/comedy series Eagleheart on [adult swim]. He also directed and co-wrote “Dinner With Friends With Brett Gelman And Friends,” an experimental horror short that took the form of a comedy special and its follow-up “Dinner With Family With Brett Gelman And Brett Gelman’s Family,” which has been selected to screen at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival…On the ad side, Jason has shot campaigns for clients such as Burger King, Verizon, Comcast, Microsoft, Norton and Toyota. Most recently Woliner collaborated/co-directed Bud Light’s ‘Whatever, USA’ campaign with the Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone. (caviar.tv) Woliner has served as a consulting producer on “Master of None” and has directed episodes of “The Last Man on Earth,” “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Trade Show Show” and most recently, the film, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” which was released in 2020.