Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Kenneth Davitian, Luenell, Pamela Anderson, Pat Haggerty
(R, 84 min.)
"Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own." Jonathan Swift
Plaudits for some risky social satire and a few pokes at humorless PC armor, but none for its lazy reliance on safe targets and vulgarity rather than wit. What’s more, beneath its obvious goring of bias and prejudice, the film reveals its own.
Perhaps you will join the large ranks of critics and moviegoers alike who think this the funniest movie of the year, if not of all time! I for one, could not get on the Little Miss Sunshine bandwagon, or for that matter, join the chorus cheering on a third acclaimed road trip comedy, last year’s Broken Flowers, and I think Borat is similarly overrated.
Let’s start with the risky social satire. Actor and screenwriter Sacha Baron Cohen plays a Borat Sagdiyev, a “leading journalist” from Kazakhstan on his visit to the U.S. to make a cultural documentary. The naïve innocent in a new and unknown world has been a standard and winning formula for some of our greatest satires, including Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland, and Voltaire’s Candide. In most cases, the “new world” is a relatively safe and fertile ground for presenting the flaws of present society to be unmasked in a slightly altered setting by a wide-eyed innocent. Sometimes this was dangerous work, as Voltaire himself received an inside view of the infamous Bastille during several involuntary stays within its walls.
Cohen takes a lesser risk in his presentation of Borat’s anti-Semitism. He and his producer refuse to fly because they worry about the Jews reenacting their planned carnage of 9-11. Their stay at a quiet American bed and breakfast becomes torture to the two when they discover their hosts to be a Jewish couple. They fear poison in proffered sandwiches, and the nocturnal wanderings of two cockroaches become insidious transmigrations of the evil landlords’ souls. Throwing dollar bills at the black bugs to placate them, the two flee in the night. But perhaps the most flagrant episode is Borat’s hometown festival, the “Running of the Jews” featuring two gigantic hook- nosed figures chasing the locals through the cobbled streets. Some critics have sought to protect Cohen from criticism for these portrayals, reminding us that he himself is Jewish, when it seems perfectly obvious that Anti-Semitism itself is the object of the scathing satire.
Other targets are mostly the safe American stereotypes that the rest of the world, and indeed quite a few “nuanced” Americans favor. What safer target today than the indigenous southern, white, war-mongering, gun-toting male, or his juvenile form, the drunken, obnoxious frat boy? All these species appear portrayed, it seems, by ordinary folk who aren’t aware the joke’s on them as well as Borat. From the rodeo crowd that cheers Borat’s escalating rhetoric on the war – he actually lures them on with some rather bland announcements before his final, “Premier George W. Bush will drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq” - to the gun shop owner who brings out at Borat’s request a gun for “killing Jews” we have a series of manipulated caricatures that play into an elite viewing public’s preconceived notions of the ugly American. And I forgot the Evangelicals who bring Borat to Jesus, just before he hops a ride with the beer-guzzling, white powder snorting Frat boys.
Nor was I particularly amused or impressed by the lazy dependence on bathroom and crude sexual humor. Yes, seeing Borat wash his face in the towel bowl wasn’t bad, but his act of self-gratification in front of the Victoria’s Secret Window Display was a bit much. Nor was the totally nude wrestling match between Borat and his porcine producer something that tickled my funny bone.
And finally, poor little Kazakhstan, a country chosen mostly for its obscurity and unproven propensity to murder filmmakers who might smear it, was ripped to shreds. How much better to give Borat a fictional homeland or one really guilty of the virulent Anit-Semitism and misogyny the film presents! But that would have taken real guts, wouldn’t it?
Perhaps realizing that his manners need a good brushing up about as much as his ubiquitous shiny grey suit, Borat consults an etiquette counselor to prepare him for a dinner invitation. And where else would one find gentility and social decorum better displayed than the lovely southern manor where Borat nevertheless manages to offend nearly all his dinner companions.
Not so for a lovely southern ham. This one, like the exotic guest, heralds from another country, but unlike Borat, it seems perfectly at home in its new surroundings.
Villa Montana Baked Ham
This truly is the best baked boneless ham I have ever eaten. It’s from the Villa Montana, Morelia, Mexico and is in the Cotton Country Cookbook of Monroe, LA.
- Pre-cooked boneless ham such as Cure 81
- whole cloves
- 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
- 2 cups pineapple juice
- 1 Tbsp. dry mustard
- 2 cups diced fresh or canned crushed pineapple
- bottle of ginger ale (1-2 liter)
Stud ham with cloves. In blender container (or food processor if no blender), place the sugar, pineapple juice, crushed pineapple, and mustard. Blend but do not puree.
Place ham on rack in roasting pan. Pour pineapple mixture over ham.
Bake for one hour at 350 degrees. Lower heat to 300 d. and bake for 2 hours. As juice in pan boils down (check after first hour), begin to add ginger ale as needed. Baste ham every 15 minutes for last hour, adding ginger ale as needed. This is the secret to the wonderful flavor! For the last 30 minutes of cooking, remove rack and place ham in bottom of pan.
Recipe Source: Flavors of the South