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Cohen amuses, challenges Americans with ‘Borat’

Marty Schroeder | Friday, March 23, 2007

Two words describe the “Borat” DVD – “very niiice.” The DVD release of the film that took the United States by storm marks the entrance of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat into the homes of America. The over-the-top “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is a hilarious, campy and subtly intelligent film that comes in a decent package.

When the case of the “Borat” DVD is opened, it’s obvious that Cohen (or the maker of the DVD) is up to his old tricks. The actual DVD resembles a homemade copy, with “Borat” written out in what looks like Sharpie marker (complete with backwards ‘R’). Aside from the creative packaging, the menu is one of the most original and clever in recent memory.

With a full chorus belting out (Cohen’s version of) the Kazakh National Anthem, the menu looks like something made in a basement video production house. Sporting dancing bear heads, the menu looks fuzzy and grainy – exactly what an American audience thinks of when the words “Soviet Propaganda” are mentioned. It is the rare DVD that warrants commentary on its menu, but “Borat” certainly deserves laurels for its creative presentation.

The film itself is the DVD’s real gem. The character of Borat was created by Brit Cohen for his television program, “Da Ali G Show.” Along with gangsta Ali G and flamboyant Austrian fashion reporter Bruno, Kazakh journalist Borat forms the comedic trinity of Cohen. He first released a film based around Ali G entitled “Ali G Indahouse.” “Borat,” the second film released by Cohen, follows the eponymous journalist around the United States as he tries to learn what makes America great.

The anti-Semitic and misogynistic Borat causes quite a stir wherever he goes. In particular, one of the most entertaining – and mind opening – parts of Borat occurs when he angers a crowd at a small town rodeo. Falling right into his ploy, the local NBC affiliate actually covered the story before the release of the film, thinking that Cohen was serious.

The newscast can be accessed in the extras as part of the deleted scenes. While it probably would have detracted from the film, this scene epitomizes what “Borat” is trying to do.

The main trajectory of the film is one of criticism and exposition of the ills of American society. Borat may make us uncomfortable – or make us laugh uncomfortably. In the end, America needs Borat to show us what we can change and make better.

The DVD is a single disc with some rather good extras. The “National P.R. Tour” section includes the appearance of Borat at film premieres and on both Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno’s late night shows. The “Jay Leno” bit includes a scene where Martha Stewart tries to teach Borat how to make a bed. Needless to say, the scene ends with Borat in the bed sans undergarments.

Other deleted scenes round out the extras on the DVD. This film, however, deserves a larger version.

The video transfer is very good and the 5.1 audio mix performs well. This isn’t a film that needs the expansive 5.1 mix, but it’s good nonetheless.

What makes Cohen’s work so great is its ability to make Americans howl with laughter at themselves. Even though he did face legal repercussions regarding some of the scenes, he shows America a side of itself that it rarely sees – or rarely wants to see. But, as “Borat” shows, we might as well laugh while we see it.