in 1835 de tocqueville published the first volume of “democracy in america,” 171 years later sacha baron cohen released a film called “borat.” the first is widely acknowledged as a seminal piece of literature – a work that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a nascent democracy in a newly formed country. the second is number one in the box office, but has yet to receive the same canonization as the first work. until now. cohen’s film/documentary offers more insight into the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of this still young country as any film or documentary released in recent years. what’s more, it does it so well and without notice that it passes as mere comedy. he’s able to do this because he’s an outsider and perceived as harmless, not in spite of these facts. his child-like demeanor allows us to see things that we might not otherwise see. filmmakers know this instinctively – when there is background or explanation that needs fleshing out just include a stupid character or child who asks the questions the audience would like to ask. borat’s character operates in a similar fashion, only, rather than probing as a documentarian might, he exposes, as a hidden camera might.
one semi-serious problem i had with the picture is it’s edited. the seamless transition from film to documentary made me wonder how much of the documentary was “set up” or created, rather than captured. it would have been easy to avoid this problem through the use of few cameras and less editing. in the scene where borat is at the rodeo, for example, i don’t recall seeing people actually booing him, yet the audio clearly indicates this. we do see people look at him oddly, but i didn’t see people actively booing him. was this overdubbed? was it looped to make it seem more substantial than it actually was? another example is when borat receives a telegram telling him some sad news. this portion seems to fall into the documentary genre because the camera is inside his room and over his shoulder. it appears as though the hotel employee is not in on the joke. until, that is, there is a reaction shot of borat from outside, in the hallway, over the employee’s shoulder. was this set up later? i’d have to look at it again more closely. part of me wonders how much of borat is really william hurt in “broadcast news.” watch the movie and you’ll get the reference. you should have seen it by now anyway.
these concerns aside, the film is hilarious and quite telling.Watched in theater