After Borat landed on our screens in 2006, the moustachioed Kazakhstani television presenter Borat Sagdiyev, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, caused an extreme reaction. His almost unwatchable stunts and outrageous provocations saw the film banned in most Arab countries and spurred debate about the ethics of making this kind of satirical 'documentary'.
Writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens discussed the amazing tolerance of the people who went along with the outrageous things Borat was saying, arguing that it revealed "the painful politeness of American society."
Nearly 15 years later and, judging by Hitchens's measure of society, America is more polite than ever, as the sequel to Borat sees every almost person the satirist comes into contact with either blithely nodding along or encouraging the alarming things he says.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm catches up with reporter years after the shame and disrepute he brought on his country – an idea which mirrors reality as the villagers of Glod, Romania did in fact file a lawsuit against the producers of Borat for portraying them as incestuous and ignorant. The film sees him undertake a convoluted journey back to America in order to bestow a gift upon Mike Pence to firm up relations between Kazakhstan and the glorious strongman McDonald Trump. As with the original Borat, his mission sees him come into contact with seemingly unaware Americans, though often in increasingly ridiculous disguises, such is the fame his first outing afforded him.
What results is the same kind of shockumentary we saw in 2006, but without the pre-Obama innocence the former was born into, it is now hard to imagine a person alive who isn't surprised to see racists and antisemites across America. Far from keeping their true feelings under wraps, these people have been emboldened by a government which uses dog-whistle racism and refuses to condemn white supremacists time and time again. Hate isn't hiding in America, it's ruling it.
None of this is lost on Sacha Baron Cohen, who manages to move the film beyond just 'gotcha!' moments by giving us scenes which are both touching and ridiculous, rather than only trying to inspire outrage. Borat's friendship with two Republicans, who explain why the Clintons drink the blood of children with the confidence of an adult recalling Pythagoras's theorem, is a reminder of the pure stupidity behind the conspiracy theorists' menace.
Elsewhere, an interaction with a pro-life doctor is set up farcically but feels entirely plausible given the war on reproductive rights being waged in America, and an excruciating exchange with a man selling him a cage to keep his daughter in sees him high-five Borat after he jokes about Trump imprisoning Mexicans. There are horrors here that didn't exist back in 2006, too, like the Instagram influencer teaching etiquette to Borat's daughter so she can snag a sugar daddy, who tells her earnestly, "You want them to like you, so that way you can get money from them".
In one scene, Borat confronts a Jewish Holocaust survivor while dressed up in a pointy nose and claws for fingers. The woman treats him with such calmness and generosity, and seems so resigned to proving the horrors she saw with her own eyes, that it gives the film it's most important moment, albeit a quiet one.
What makes the sequel to Borat both disturbing and disappointing is how normal it all feels, how run of the mill to see men protesting a pandemic armed with guns and singing songs about killing the press, or a bakery owner obliging with icing antisemitic slurs onto a chocolate cake. It is truly plausible that the site of a man dressed in full KKK garb bumbling through a Conservative event where Mike Pence is speaking could only raise a handful of bemused eyebrow, as it does in Borat's staged scene. The genie is out the bottle now, and reality is stranger even than Borat's fiction.
'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm' is on Amazon Prime now
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