Sunday, March 11, 2007

Take a note, Kazakhstan: fact and fiction don't mix

Borat has left me feeling confused and slightly dirty.

Well, very dirty, as anyone who has seen the infamous scene where Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen), a Kazakh reporter making a documentary about America for his home audience, wrestles his producer Azamat (Ken Davitian). Did I mention they're naked? And that Davitian has bigger breasts than Pamela Anderson? Not a pretty sight.

But I can deal with this feeling, two bars of soap and some plum-flavoured exfoliant later.

It's the confusion I can't shake. Did Baron Cohen want to convince his audience that America is full of rodeo racists, frat boys and etiquette freaks? Did he want to make a parody of this kind of argument, the Louis Theroux-esque disingenuous travelogue? Did he want to make an amusing movie or a credible one?

I laughed quite a bit during Borat. Some of it was from shock, like when Borat says that George Bush should drink the blood of Iraqis and the rodeo crowd he's addressing shouts its affirmation. At other times, well, it was still from shock. There were very few things we would recognise as jokes - the laughter inevitably followed something outrageous.

But what happens when you no longer believe that the outrage is genuine?

Take the ending, where Borat tries to kidnap Pamela Anderson. There is no way this could not have been staged: Anderson puts up a fight but isn't a good enough actress to feign surprise or terror; the cameraman neatly tracks Borat's pursuit of Anderson; and Borat isn't even arrested.

It isn't just this incident: the scene where the anti-Semitic reporter finds himself at a Jewish couple's B&B rings as false as those candy knuckledusters I used to suck on as a schoolboy. It's overdone, and the cockroach infestation is too pat.

This fiction amongst the apparent reality weakens the latter: you can't laugh because you're wondering if it's all just a set-up, in which case the shock is dulled and unhilarious. If the dupes are in on it, how can you be outraged? Fake shock is no shock, and it's certainly no joke.

The line between reality and the script gets so muddied that I ended up doubting my own reactions. While this may have worked for a psychological drama, in a comedy you want to be carried away, not distracted, and unfortunately what starts out as incredibly funny just ends up incredible.

No comments: