“Now vote… Or you will be execute.”
These are the final words on-screen before the rolling credits and they would seem oddly misplaced as the finale to a Borat feature film were it not for Sacha Baren Cohen’s satirical genius in the 1 hour and 36 minutes before.
You would be forgiven for considering Cohen’s alter ego a disregarded character of the past: in recent years, Cohen has done a fantastic job of distancing himself from roles such as Ali G, Bruno and Borat. So convincing was he, in the aforementioned roles, that audiences may have struggled to accept the “real” Cohen: a well-spoken, articulate and highly intelligent screenwriter and actor with a great range, spanning beyond the comedy genre.
His social media platforms are a hub of political discussion which encourage fans to make conscientious choices regarding their votes in upcoming elections. He’s done talks on surveillance in the post-Facebook era and has finger on the pulse, when it comes to current affairs. His credibility as an actor has been proven as part of musical ensembles such as Les Miserables, light-hearted laughs like Grimsby, as well as serious roles in the Netflix originals The Spy and The Trial of the Chicago Seven. Garnering widespread accolade for his variety and having the opportunity to work with A-list film-makers, you’d think Cohen would be focused on fresh pastures, but 2020, the year we’ve all learned to hate, has done the utter unthinkable and brought Borat back to our screens.
Boy, we’ve needed him.
Cohen’s resurrection of Kazakhstan’s poster-boy Borat is timely. In his classic top-form, this time with the accompaniment of his daughter Tutar as sidekick, the exiled Borat, slaving away in a Gulag camp, is given a chance of redemption. When he accepts, he finds himself sent back to America with the objective of redeeming the soiled image of his homeland. The ultimate end-goal is to present Donald Trump with Kazakhstan’s national treasure aka celebrity entertainer/pornstar Johnny the Monkey, and the weirdness of the narrative only gets weirder from this starting point. Along the way, Borat has numerous encounters with colourful personalities in the midst of America’s political turmoil.
There are moments where newcomer Maria Bakalova stifles on-screen laughter as the unwilling actors in her scenes go off on their tangents, without realising they’re revealing their inner bias and prejudice to a global audience. She does a remarkable job of handling the responses by staying in character, a tough feat that Cohen has perfected over his years in the industry.
There’s appearances from Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani, captured in their element (and without their knowledge), as well as features on the likes of Pastor Jonathan Bright (who believes all life is sacred, even that which is formed from an incestuous relationship between father and daughter). There’s also scenes of a mass-crowd, led by Borat himself, singing along to race-hate songs at a gun rally and a brief lockdown comprised of Borat and two right-wing conspirators, who share their remarkable theories on Wuhan and the pivotal role of Obama/the Clintons in the depreciation of America.
There’s admittedly a very different tone to this sequel. Yes, it’s outrageous in true Cohen form and elicits belly laughs every few minutes, but also very depressingly touches upon the modern-day virus of fake news and division.
It’s entertaining on a surface level and cerebral for those who can appreciate satire. One thing is for certain: Cohen has a vast well of material to work on with the way the world is going at the moment, so I look forward to seeing what he creates next!