Borat is back and the new movie is chock full of Jewish jokes and humour some small, some writ large.
As the titular Borat Sagdiyev, the Jew-hating, yet paradoxically Hebrew-speaking, Kazakh reporter, Sacha Baron Cohen again treats us to a gloriously jaw-dropping, hilarious exercise in physical slapstick and verbal humour.
Take the chameleonic performances of Peter Sellers, throw in some Warren Mitchell, and then mix with a huge dose of chutzpah, and you get an actor like Baron Cohen who takes his signature brand of humour into places other comedians do not reach.
A Familiar Face
Given that Borat was made fourteen years ago, though, the eponymous character is now a familiar face and minor celebrity in his own right. When he arrives in the United States, he is greeted by Americans asking for his autograph and wanting to take selfies. Thus, Borat has to disguise himself as a range of American characters in order to avoid detection. (He goes to a costume shop where he finds he is even available as a dressing up item.) His new disguises include, among other costumes, President Trump himself and Jewish senior advisor to the President Stephen Miller in a KKK outfit.
He is also accompanied by his teenaged daughter, Tutar, brilliantly played by Bulgarian actress, Maria Bakalova, whom he hopes to gift to vice-president Mike Pence as, in the words of the film’s subtitle, a ‘Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’.
Saturated with Antisemitism
And where the original film was saturated with representations of antisemitism, this one does not disappoint as Baron Cohen treats the topic with the same irreverence as he did before. But this time he uses the film to attack the diversification of antisemitism in terms of Holocaust denial, social media, physical attacks and mass shootings, and in Covid-related prejudice towards Jews.
Baron Cohen again displays a consistent disrespect towards topics and subject matter where other Jews fear to tread. Never one to walk on a tightrope of political correctness, he crosses the line many times continuing this shtick of lampooning every ancient, anti-Jewish stereotype.
In terms of plot (inasmuch as there is one), since returning from America on his original trip fourteen years ago, Borat has been sentenced to hard labour in a gulag for the humiliation he heaped on his native country. He is despised and disowned by his wife and family. His son is so ashamed that has discarded the family name and changed it to that of his hero: Jeffrey Epstein.
And so, it begins.
Borat then explains how the ‘Running of the Jew’ — one of the most imaginative Jewish moments ever conceived – has been cancelled. ‘All we have left is Holocaust Remembrance Day,’ he mourns over footage of a party full of young people dancing while covered in soap suds, ‘where we commemorate our heroic soldiers who ran the camps.’
For the record, Kazakhstan didn’t participate in the Holocaust. In fact, its Jews were saved and they have enjoyed a long history in the country. Nevertheless, if viewers don’t bother to fact check they may think that Kazakhstan is guilty of war crimes and that Baron Cohen’s depiction of the country may be considered racist and defamatory.
Unique journalistic style
Borat again deploys his unique journalistic style to expose and mock contemporary antisemitism, facilitating open utterances of prejudice or, at least, a willingness to turn a blind eye towards it.
At a hardware store, he asks the owner if propane gas will finish a gypsy in van. ‘How many gypsies could I finish with one cannister?’ he inquires. When he asks for a cannister to finish the lives of twenty gypsies, the man recommends the next size up.
Borat also buys a large cake and asks the lady behind the counter to pipe the white supremacist slogan, ‘Jews will not replace us’, in icing on it, along with a smiley face. She willingly obliges.
Because Borat wants his daughter to have a complete makeover to make her more attractive to Mike Pence, he consults a plastic surgeon who recommends a rhinoplasty. ‘What’s wrong with my nose? Do I look like a Jew?’ Tutar asks. The surgeon assures her she does not. Borat is relieved. But then the surgeon explains how Jews like this, making a grotesque gesture around his nose. Borat extends the gesture, exaggerating the alleged Jewish nose even further and the surgeon concurs that ‘It can be that bad’ for a Jewish person.
On her voyage of self-discovery, from repressed Kazakh to liberated woman, Tutar eventually discovers Holocaust denial on social media. Via Facebook she learns that ‘our nation’s proudest moment, the Holocaust, never happened.’ ‘How dare you say that,’ Borat replies indignantly.
‘Very depressed’, Borat wants to commit suicide. But he can’t afford to buy a gun. So, in one of those lines that is delivered so quickly and deadpan, it’s another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, he decides to go ‘to the nearest synagogue to wait for the next mass shooting.’
Turning up at Temple Kol Emeth, he is ‘disguised as a typical Jew’. This involves a long fake Pinocchio-type nose, a fake bag of money, with Satanic wings on his back, and a puppet on a string. As he enters, he greets an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor with the words, ‘Very nice weather we have been controlling.’
She hugs and kisses him, and Borat worries out loud that her Jewish venom might be a slow releasing toxin.
When he tells her that ‘the Holocaust didn’t happen’ and is a ‘fairy tale’, she reassures him that ‘I saw it with my own eyes’, much to his evident delight. ‘The Holocaust happened, really?! Thank you, Judith. You make me so happy!’
At a right-wing rally (you really have to admire his guts), he sings a country and western song with lyrics about injecting journalists with ‘the Wuhan flu’ and chopping up journalists ‘like the Saudis do’. At one point, rally goers sieg heil as they sing along.
No one is safe from Sacha Baron Cohen’s sights. He is the physical embodiment of Mad magazine at its peak. And I have only focused on the Jewish moments, but there are plenty of others.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm therefore stands alongside Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and Mike Nichol’s MASH as a lasting testament to our strange times.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is available now on Amazon Prime.
Great review, Nathan. I very much liked the bond between Borat and Tutar, which humanised the character in a way the first film only tried to do. The fairy-tale aspect was particularly apt given Jewish folkloric attitudes to stories both written by them and about them. Sacha Baron Cohen is almost unparalleled in modern comedy, part clown part satirist part political commentator. I’m not sure Borat would stretch to a threequel but I for one would happily spend another 90 minutes of uncomfortable, outrageous and provocative antics.