TORONTO (CP) _ Its official title is "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." But the movie is known simply as "Borat," and at the Toronto International Film Festival it’s become a box-office winner. Or, as the ignorant, bigoted and hot-blooded Borat himself is fond of declaring when life is going his way, it’s a festival "high five!"
The film, starring and created by British comic Sacha Baron Cohen of HBO’s Da Ali G Show, is drawing some of the biggest crowds at the festival, despite getting off to a bad start when the projector broke during its gala premiere. Cohen, in character as Borat, showed up for the event in a cart alongside a relaxed horse that was being pulled by a group of kerchiefed peasant women to the delight of hundreds of fans outside the Ryerson Theatre. The screening had to be rescheduled for the following night.
All showings since have been packed with gleeful movie-goers. A Sunday media screening was no exception, reducing about 200 film writers _ most accustomed to taking in some of the festival’s more sombre offerings to convulsions of almost non-stop laughter. Michael Moore, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, is among the movie’s fans, telling the crowd at the would-be premiere last week that Borat is the funniest movie he’s ever seen.
Cohen plays his popular character from Da Ali G Show _ Borat Sagdiyev, a television reporter in Kazakhstan who leaves his impoverished village to come to the U.S. to film a documentary. Borat quickly finds himself falling in love with Pamela Anderson after watching an episode of Baywatch in his New York hotel room. Determined to meet and marry his golden-haired dream girl, Borat sets out with his hirsute and rotund producer on a drive to California in what is arguably one of the funniest, and crudest, cinematic road trips ever. Along the way, he confronts the underbelly of American society, people even scarier than Borat himself _ including a trio of beer-swilling sexist frat boys, a racist cowboy and a trembling, twitching congregation of Christian revivalists.
The movie isn’t without controversy. Though Cohen himself is Jewish, his Borat is a proud anti-Semite, he lusts after his own sister _ "the No. 4 prostitute in Kazakhstan!" _ and he travels with a live chicken in his luggage. The shtick has never gone over well with the Kazakhstan government.
With the impending mainstream release of the film, the government isn’t any happier. New York magazine reported recently that the Kazakhstan embassy and its government are scrambling to address the upcoming release, and are considering buying ad time in the U.S. to educate Americans about the "real Kazakhstan."
Borat’s response to the brouhaha? He says he "fully supports my government’s decision to sue this Jew."
Movie fans don’t seem to be paying any attention to the fuss. The blogosphere is buzzing with enthusiasts who’ve descended upon Toronto for the festival.
"I’m not prone to tossing out wild superlatives and giddy bits of over-praise, but wow _ this thing is easily one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, seriously," reads a post by Scott Weinberg of the movie blog Cinematical.
"Equal parts silly, sly, satirical and stunningly bizarre, this is a comedy that’s going to be quoted and re-quoted for the next 15 years. Brazen, ballsy and absolutely brilliant."