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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Sacha Baron Cohen's "Mockumentary" Borat premieres at Toronto Film Festival

The full title of Sacha Baron Cohen's film is actually Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The "mockumentary" is a fake documentary about the misadventures of a northern, middle-eastern journalist as he travels the US from one end to the other. It is a comedy in the broadest sense and is not likely to be appealing to everyone's taste.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, a "mockumentary" is exactly what the mashup word implies. It's a motion picture or television program that takes the form of a serious documentary in order to satirize its subject, depicting fictional events presented as a documentary. Thus a mocking documentary. Think This is Spinal Tap (1984) and both the British and American versions of The Office (2001 and 2005 respectively).

British actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has been specializing in "mockumentary" work most of his career. He worked briefly as a model before he turned to acting and improvisational comedy. In 1995, the UK Channel 4 put out an open call for new presenters, and Baron Cohen sent in a tape featuring himself in character as an Albania TV reporter (an early prototype for Borat). In 1998, he appeared in The 11 O'Clock Show, a satirical late-night British television comedy series much in the style of The Daily Show. It featured topical sketches and commentary on news items which became a cult hit thanks to his character, Ali G. The character proved so popular that it produced a spin-off show Da Ali G Show.

The basic premiss is that Kazakh TV talking head Borat is dispatched to the United States to report on the greatest country in the world. With a documentary at his side, Borat discovers Baywatch and becomes more interested in locating and marrying Pamela Anderson. Thus begins his journey from one end of America to the other, with a variety of adventures and cultural encounters along the way. The particularly notable aspect being that Baron Cohen never breaks character with any of the people that he meets. And that's where the comedy comes in.

Personally, I have a difficult time enjoying this kind of comedy. I find it uncomfortable, no matter how funny it may be, to watch people being made to look ridiculous by manipulation. I realize they are usually made ridiculous by their own hubris, but I still don't enjoy it. Although, I am among the few who don't care to watch Punk'd or even Curb Your Enthusiasm. If you do, then this is a film for you! And be ready to be blown away, because by all accounts, Borat takes the comedy of "mockumentaries" to a whole new level.

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