Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
Director: Jason Woliner
Screenwriters: Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Swimer
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova
Some 14 years after Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat became a worldwide star in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the Glorious Nation situated south of Russia and west of China has released their famous journalist from a lifelong prison sentence to once again send him 6,500 miles across the globe to explore the USA. His mission: to sell his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) to the 48th and current Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence.
Much has been made of the apparent antics of Cohen and his crew in the lightning fast putting together of Borat 2, with rumours of interrupting Republican candidates, being sued by prominent political figures and performing at Republican rallies being the most widespread. The filmmaker, lauded and equally condemned for his outrageous antics across the length of his career, has never been short of guts; but could he really have done these outrageous things?
The answer is yes. Absolutely yes. Some would even say a Glorious yes.
Borat 2 immediately addresses the Elephant in the room… Borat is now famous. Cohen is shot walking through a Texan town in full garment, passers by filmed asking him for autographs and shouting his name across sidewalks. It’s a piece of smart self-awareness that works in-universe but also in the meta sense that acknowledges how we know Cohen is now much too famous to fool people like he once did. A barrier is put in Borat’s way and our expectations of the riotous antics of his previous film are lowered significantly, allowing Cohen and his team to lean much more heavily towards the fictional narrative of Borat’s developing relationship with his 15 year old daughter Tutar, who will become vital to this film’s resonance. In this sense, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm feels almost more personal and certainly more cinematic, each likely a consequence of both Cohen’s fame and the crew wanting to separate this piece from his similarly put together TV series ‘Who Is America?’ (2018). It’s simple storytelling, and it is essentially the same narrative as the first film – the hero must go on a journey to get what he wants – but more than a foolhardy pursuit of a woman in which Borat is blocked by ignorance and flamed by celebrity culture, capitalism, patriotism and the like, Borat 2 is much more focused, attacking with pinpoint accuracy the US Republican party, whether it be its policies, the values underlying them, the politicians themselves or their followers. In as much as Borat was a shocking insight into the intrinsic prejudices of the United States and the capitalist values that divide its populous, Borat 2 is a mirror to the US and its reasons for appointing its most embarrassing leader in its history, a genuinely hilarious but at times spine-chillingly shocking docudrama. It is here where Borat Subsequent Moviefilm most excels.
Throughout this sequel, there’s a tangible sense of unease surrounding every action between Borat’s daughter Tutar and the characters/real people filling roles (willingly or unwittingly) in each of the movie’s shock-horror skits. Borat openly discusses buying a cage for his daughter to live in, a store clerk approving a $900 animal cage as appropriate for use, for example. In another scene, a plastic surgeon explains what “could be worked on” on Tutar’s face, describing how she could chip a little away from her nose and “expand her titties”. In the latter case, Cohen’s shock almost filters through his character who is disguised as another character, as he asks repeatedly “titties?”, to which the doctor continuously responds “titties”. The sexism, explained through Cohen’s intelligent comedy as being intrinsic to so much of the American way, is laid bare in all of its ugly shame in an easy to digest and explain manner that helps to make the reality of it truly undeniable. And, like any great filmmaker working on a well respected narrative piece, this then comes home to roost in a finale involving famed Republican and former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, the actions of his long-promised appearance being as timely and shocking to the core as anything you’re ever likely to see.
It’s this contemporality that makes Borat Subsequent Moviefilm a must-watch. Not a must-watch in the general sense necessarily, not like the more rapidly paced and more frequently jaw-dropping original anyway, but more in the immediacy of how important everything it presents is to the here and now, to the upcoming US Presidential Election and the future of a nation with incomparable power on a global scale. Being realistic, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a movie made for the already converted, the people to the left of the Trump’s radical Republicanism, and as such it is unlikely to galvanise anyone from the right of Trump into switching allegiances come election day. But Cohen makes it very clear in a final dramatisation of Trump’s treatment of the ongoing pandemic, and an on-screen title card encouraging people to vote, that he’s here not necessarily to convert those he has openly mocked and undermined over the course of his film, but to encourage those who don’t vote to go and make a change.
It is sickening and sad that, in 2020, Borat and the backward fictional culture of his in-universe Kazakhstan is not too dissimilar to that of the United States, Cohen being sharp as a tack to explain how his jokes of women being encaged, enslaved and sold are not so “othering” of his character as they once were, not since the Jeffrey Epstein case or the allegations surrounding the United States’ president’s sexual abuse allegations, as well as the ever-present disrespect and undermining of women in all walks of life. It paints a horrifying picture, or more accurately represents an ugly reflection of a nation once at the centre of a progressive new world, and yet Borat Subsequent Moviefilm doesn’t fail to be funny or miss the chance to capture your heart. For all of its serious real-world commentary and truly horrifying moments of real-life prejudice and bigotry, Borat 2 is funny. Not since Charlie Chaplin have we seen a comedian produce this much relevant social filmmaking and remain so rapturously hilarious so consistently, and it is an absolute joy to see such serious situations and circumstances that often seem entirely hopeless in our contemporary space be broken down and presented through such a lens.
Cohen might not yet be described as a genius, but he’s certainly getting there.