For today’s films I’m closing a cultural blind-spot that I never really had much interest in closing and It’s Oscar nominated sequel. I’m not going to lie I’ve been secretly dreading this viewing experience. I know that the Borat films have a lot of critical acclaim, but they heavily utilize a type of humor that makes me extremely uncomfortable watching. Regardless I’ll consider this me attempting to broaden my horizons.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006, Dir. Larry Charles)
The first Borat film was about why I expected. While I’d never watched it before, much of the punchlines have been circulating for a decade and a half now so those bits offered none of the punch they may have back then, and I found the undercover set pieces just as comfortable as I thought I would. While I may have had to pause at various moments from discomfort, I do think that I understand the film. It does what all great comedy does and that’s punch up and thereby uncovers the seedy underbelly of the jingoist American culture. While the comedy works, despite my discomfort, I think the film lacks the heart to make it a really successful film. Thankfully, that shortfall was answered by its sequel.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020, Dir. Jason Woliner)
The introduction of Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter Tutar elevates Borat Subsequent Moviefilm from a comedic novelty to a fully realized film with a character arc. The film is still as biting as ever in its unmasking of the US’s racist culture. It’s arguable that the commentary hits even harder in 2020 when America’s racist nature is more front and center than ever. Yet even with the unending commentary potential, the film focuses more on its personal story which allows the film to stand alone as cohesive story rather than only a collection of cringe inducing vignettes.
It makes sense that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm received one additional Oscar nomination over its predecessor for the supporting performance by Maria Bakalova. Her arc from gaslit teen to someone making decisions on her own brings a level of humanity that the first film was missing. Her presence even causes Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat to undergo a transformation, something lacking from the first movie. These cinematic breaks from the schtick helped make the film a less uncomfortable experience for me to watch too, but it’s the heart they provide the film that makes the sequel the superior film.