In the crazy year that was 2020, it just made sense for Borat to return. Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s character and mockumentary film Borat was released in 2006, in the post 9/11 Bush era. Borat, an anti-semetic Eastern European reporter, was designed to expose the stupidity and bigotry of the people around him. He would interview the rich, the working class, the famous and the politicians, where these people would become comfortable around Borat enough to expose their bigotry, often saying the quiet part of their bigotry loud and proud. With the heightened anti-semitism, racism, sexism and hatred of the Trump era, why wouldn’t Borat return?
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm doesn’t just follow Borat around as he fumbles his way throughout the states, it also follows the concrete (albeit wild) story of Borat trying to give his daughter, Tutar Sagdiyev (Maria Bakalova), to vice president Michael Pence. When I first watched the Borat sequel I was amazed by Maria Bakalova’s performance and am not alone as she was just nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The pure reason why Bakalova’s performance stands so well next to Cohen’s is because of her fantastic skill at not breaking character—which in this case meant keeping a straight face when saying such outlandish things and hearing the often more outlandish reactions from those around her.
Throughout the film, the character of Borat is unbelievably sexist to Tutar, but it is made clear that his sexism and her acceptance of it is based on the society that they are part of. Tutar even carries her favorite children’s book from their home country, which is about a girl’s demise after touching her “vagine,” around with her. As the audience laughs at the absurdity of the sexism in their home country of Kazakhstan, the realities of sexism in the United States are made even more clear throughout the film—which in due part thanks to Maria Bakalova’s fantastic improv and ability to keep a straight face. Just like the character of Borat, the character of Tutar gets people to expose their bigotry and to say the quiet part of their hatred loud and proud.
As Borat and Tutar try to accomplish their goal of getting Tutar ready to wed Michael Pence and then Rudy Guiliani throughout the film, they encounter real unsuspecting people. These encounters include a dress shop owner who laughs at Borat’s joke, “where’s the no means yes section,” a plastic surgeon reassuring Tutar that she does not have a Jewish nose, and a lovely babysitter who is the most ethical person they encounter. In these encounters, Cohen and Bakalova play “naive and stupid” around unsuspecting people to get them to both see how the people would react to their wackiness and to see how the people would expose their own stupidity. In a film like this, if Cohen and Bakalova were to break character, the scenes would utterly collapse and the unsuspecting people would then realize what is going on and thus be in on the joke. For the sake of the film to expose the bigotry means to smile and go along with it in order to keep the other party going. For Bakalova that means to smile at the sexism and to keep adding fuel to the fire.
In order for the film to capture such shocking moments like the infamous scene of Rudy Guiliani in bed “tucking his shirt in” (sure, Jan), Maria Bakalova needed to play along to the bigotry, to agree with it and keep it going. To keep it going means the other party will keep burying themselves deeper into the hole. This is best encapsulated in the now infamous Guiliani scene where Tukar is inducting an interview with him with the ulterior motive of wanting to sell herself to him. While the audience is meant to laugh this goal off as absurd the scary reality is that it seems as though this almost happens. Giuliani seductively flirts with Tukar, holds her hands, and even follows her to a hotel bedroom. He not only goes along with it, but he instigates much of it. Bakalova keeps it going to make Giuliani dig himself deeper and deeper, even joking that she’ll eat a bat with him if he eats a bat in a reference to COVID19, until the very end when Cohen bursts in and seemingly catches him unzipping his pants. This was all caught on camera thanks to Bakalova keeping a straight face and going along with the awfulness of the situation in order to capture it.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is one of the funniest films of the year not only because of the excellent jokes and gags, but also because of how the actors are able to expose the outlandish bigotry and injustice that we have sadly become accustomed to in the Trump era. To expose injustice on camera means to keep a straight face in the eye of corruption and Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova are more than skilled in that art. With Maria Bakalova, while her comedic timing is amazing where she really shines in the film’s strongest moments is her ability to not break character, even when the real people around her are far more outlandish than her own character.
‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
By Brianna Benozich