Rudy Giuliani, Maria Bakalova and an antisemitic cake: discuss Borat Subsequent Moviefilm with spoilers

Sacha Baron Cohen’s second journey out of Kazakhstan is with a spirited new sidekick, and they land immediately in political and social hot water

Totally committed … Maria Bakalova.




Totally committed … Maria Bakalova.
Photograph: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Wa wa wee wa! Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is finally here and, while nothing could ever reproduce the shock and awe of the original, Kazakhstan’s favourite son’s return to the screen is, if nothing else, an event.

Sadly the pandemic kept this from cinemas, but its wide availability via Amazon means everyone can tune in at once. Here’s your chance to talk about the wildest moments – litigious, grisly, or both.

America’s mayor

Surely by now you’ve gone frame-by-frame on the scandalous, bedroom “shirt adjustment” moment that caused a sensation even before the movie was released.

Is this an innocent moment in which an interview subject is merely moving his clothes around after removing a microphone? Or does the three-times-divorced 76-year-old man think he’s about to, in the parlance of the film, make sexytime with a news anchor whose dye job would make Tomi Lahren blush?

Certainly editing comes into play (this is a comedy, not a documentary) but the facts are that there’s a lot knee-touching, some hand-holding (in violation of the easiest-to-follow Covid social distancing guidelines), and Maria Bakalova’s Tutar Sagdiyev is positively gushing toward Giuliani – and he is eating it up.

After the invite into the bedroom (?!) for a drink (?!), and after he puts his hand on the small of her back (?!) and asks for her phone number (?!) … does his laying down with his hands in his trousers look like he’s – as zoologists would say – “presenting himself” to you? Do you get the vibe that he’s been in this set of circumstances before, and it’s worked out to his benefit? He does shout “oopp!” when Borat runs in the room, commanding him to put down his penis, as if he knows this doesn’t look good?

Rudy Giuliani interviewed in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm


Rudy Giuliani interviewed in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Photograph: Amazon Prime

Or is this a wilful misinterpretation of nothing but a slightly weird circumstance?

Giuliani himself says this a total fabrication and that the picture looks doctored but many, even Olaf, feel that Trump’s personal attorney’s career is officially over.

To Giuliani’s credit, he did call the police at the time, suggesting he wasn’t afraid of an investigation – but he was alerting the authorities to an unusually dressed man, with no mention of the scene he interrupted. However, supporters of both Giuliani and Trump have demonstrated remarkable tolerance for dubious behaviour, so Rudy’s viability in the infotainment marketplace might be something not even Borat can stop.

If this were a world where things made sense, he should be shunned simply for saying, as he does in this film, that: “China manufactured the virus and let it out. And they deliberately spread it all around the world.” This is as preposterous as what the two Republican-supporters in the cabin say about Hillary Clinton drinking blood, but those guys do not have the ear of the president of the United States.

Moonblood

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm does not, alas, have a sequence as shatteringly funny as the naked fight from the original. But the Kazakh fertility dance at the debutante ball comes close. Borat’s daughter Tutar lifting her dress while in the midst of a heavy flow shocks the room of genteel southerners. Indeed, menstruation is the last undiscovered country for comedy in a world where dicks are seemingly on parade.

What’s far more repulsive than a natural biological fact for half the planet is the grotesque older man suggesting that a night with Tutar would be worth $500. Though whispering, his daughter overhears, and is mortified. It’s a true “holy shit” moment in the Borat tradition, but upsetting when you consider she likely hears a lot worse at home.

Introducing Maria Bakalova

And speaking about young women making their debut … just who the hell is Maria Bakalova?! Matching Sacha Baron Cohen for fearlessness and comic timing, she is, without question, the find of the year. And the one thing the new film has that the original didn’t is a genuinely touching (though admittedly silly) emotional arc. Tell me you didn’t feel a little shiver when father-and-daughter appear in matching suits at the end!

The 24-year-old Bulgarian actor has only been in a few projects, including an episode of the Italian crime series Gomorrah and the Bulgarian film Transgression, in which she plays a young woman in a relationship with an older rock star.

If you want to talk about a total, committed performance in a movie this year, there’s not much competition. Frances McDormand already has two Academy awards. Spread the wealth a little and let 2020’s prize, already a weirdo year with an asterisk, go to Bakalova.

‘Very nice weather we have been controlling’

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Courtesy of Amazon Studios


Photograph: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Sacha Baron Cohen came out “as himself” last year to decry Facebook’s lethargic response to Holocaust denial on its service. This becomes a plot point in which Borat’s worldview is shattered when he “learns” that the Holocaust never happened. (To Borat, of course, the systematic attempted genocide of Jews is one of his greatest sources of pride.)

Anyhow Borat is depressed and wants to kill himself, so he heads to the nearest synagogue to await the next mass shooting. He comes dressed as “a Jew” (with claws, bat wings, a preposterous false nose, a cartoonish sack of money in one hand and puppet strings controlling “the media” in the other) and ends up meeting two kindly old Jewish ladies who take him at face value, and try to get him to see beyond hate. For the purposes of the story, Borat is delighted to hear that octogenarian Judith Dim Evans witnessed the concentration camps first-hand.

If you watch the closing credits through to the end you will see that the film is dedicated to Dim Evans, who died after filming. A quote reads: “I feel obligated to be a good person and to bring good to the world. We owe it to the dead,” and there is a link to her website. In a weird twist, however, some of her family members are conducting a lawsuit against the production.

It’s hard to fathom why the estate feels that the late Dim Evans suffered any sort of actionable mental anguish. Baron Cohen’s costume in this scene is ludicrous, and it is difficult to imagine anyone thinking this is anything other than a gag. That the comedian who has dedicated so much of his energy to fighting antisemitism then “dropped the mask” to make sure the Holocaust survivor was in on the joke seems like a salient mitigating factor. Do you agree, or is joking around with someone who lost family members in Nazi death camps a bit too far, even for Borat?

‘This Can’t Be Real

We’ve been saying this while watching Sacha Baron Cohen’s antics for years, but it’s becoming harder to know when moments have tripped into scripted territory. (One almost appreciated when faces are blurred out, like someone giving the Sieg Heil salute at the far right rally).

The actor claims he was in lockdown for five days with the QAnon nutters, but it does start to feel a little phony when they move from being people you laugh at for their idiotic views to characters who actually propel the (admittedly thin) narrative. Once Borat dispatches them to persuade Tutar to let her father back into her life, does something smell off to you?

‘I Hope This Isn’t Real’

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Courtesy of Amazon Studios Press publicity


Photograph: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

That said, it would make life a little easier if some of the voices from our doomed society could be dismissed as false. The propane salesman boasting that his tanks can wipe out a van of Gypsies is maybe worse than anything Baron Cohen has captured before. The woman decorating a cake with “Jews will not replace us” isn’t great either. The plastic surgeon suggesting that he’d love to “make sexytime” with Tutar, but, unfortunately, not in front of her father (who wants to pay for a boob job in cash) will hopefully see a dip in patients after this week.

And while few would expect anything less from the Conservative Political Action Conference, it’s telling that they got more worked up seeing someone in a mock Trump outfit than in Ku Klux Klan robes.

To that last point, great redirect on the film’s marketing here. We were led to believe that the interruption of Mike Pence would be the culmination of the chaos. While it’s hilarious to see the Trump fat suit in action, this is one of the tamer moments in the film.

Great success!!

Sacha Baron Cohen retired Borat in late 2007 in part because he was too popular. No one could get pranked by someone so famous. (Indeed this is a major plot point in Subsequent Moviefilm, hence Borat’s need to wear disguises.) But something he doesn’t mention is that for 14 years, society has been blessed/plagued by people doing Borat Voice.

I’ll confess, I’m guilty, too. There’s just too many catchphrases and it’s simply too much fun. I’m shouting in Borat Voice at my cat right now. “You eat the kibble? Very nice!!!”

Wisely, Subsequent Moviefilm gets a lot of this out of the way early. The very first lines are a cascade of slogans, like a band running through its hit singles early out of obligation.

“Jagshemash!” the film starts. “My name a Borat. My wife is niiiiiice – NOT!”

Subsequent Moviefilm begins with Borat doing Borat Voice. Brilliant.

Fax matter

Borat matters, most critics will tell you, because he reflects how American values are not that different from the absurd projections of what the “shithole countries” must be like. But Borat is a phenomenon because Sacha Baron Cohen and his gaggle of writers are very funny.

One of the biggest laughs for me in Subsequent Moviefilm is a throwaway. Borat is faxing back and forth with his premier. The gotcha gag is that the man at the copy centre seems unstirred that this moustachioed weirdo is planning to gift his 15-year-old daughter to Mike Pence, but there is something beautiful in Borat’s salutary message being “S’up.” That the response is the same but with an added question mark is an example of the light, absurdist poetry that makes Baron Cohen a genius.