A number of comically verbose subtitles adorn Sacha Baron Cohen’s sequel to the wildly successful Borat, a film which rebooted his Ali G ‘funny foreigner’ character into a new world of scripted and candid camera pranks. But Borat 2, which would have been a sure-fire cinema release, was made in secret in the midst of a pandemic, then went straight to streaming instead. Baron Cohen’s game is entrapment, to skewer the patriarchy by their own behaviour, and with some help from Amazon, the results are now viewable in homes worldwide.
Context; on the first day of the film’s broadcast, America registered over 80,000 cases of the deadly covid-19 virus with nearly a thousand dead in 24 hours; no laughing matter, to be sure. The President was caught on camera attempting to entrap the Israeli leader into denouncing his rival in the electoral race. Arguments rage about the President’s use of his official twitter account to retweet white supremacist and conspiracy theorists; ‘White power!’ is one of the slogans he sees fit to share. And a punch-line arrives in the sights of the president’s lawyer in a compromising position, drinking scotch on a hotel room bed with a mystery blonde (Maria Bakalova), his hands down his trousers. Watching Rudy Giuliani abuse his position by copping boozy feels of a young girl while a pandemic rages gives an indelible indication of how seriously the Trump administration are taking their responsibility to protect the people who elected them.
Borat himself, and his daughter too, offer a double-edged sword; we’re drawn to laugh at his ridiculous ways, but the goal is firmly on using the character to expose the dangerous attitudes of those in power. Unlike the first film, a fairly scattershot collection of pranks and pratfalls, linked by a tenuous narrative, Jason Woliner’s film is lazer focused on exposing the divided, race-baiting, intolerant canvas of today’s America. As Borat seeks to gift his sex-monkey to Mike Pence, or his daughter to Giuliani, Baron Cohen’s desire to degrade himself pays off by dragging down everyone else with him. His chats to influencers, rednecks and others are artfully conceived and edited to reveal the fallacy of their thinking. And the transformation of his daughter into a blonde-haired Stepford Wife to catch the attention of his Republican targets strikes with surgical precision on the sexist attitudes of the patriarchy.
Borat 2 ends with a remembrance of the Holocaust, and survivor Judith Dim Evans, who participated in the film and died before it was released. Baron Cohen interviews her in a full anti-Semetic garb, and in the supplemental material provided on Prime, she gently admonishes him by explaining her own experience of the Holocaust. Her family have understandably sued, claiming that she didn’t know the motives of the film-makers, but on the evidence of what she says, she’s on the same page as Baron Cohen; the slide into selfish autocracy has begun, and it’s our responsibility to stop this casual devaluing of human life from happening in the way it did in the 1930’s and 40’s.