Taking Revenge on ‘Borat,’ Amorous Donkey and All
Oct 04. New York Times. ALMATY
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
Sitting before some editing banks on the second floor of a nightclub here, a Kazakh director named Erkin Rakishev described the weighty task ahead: defending the honor of all Kazakhs by wreaking revenge on the odious movie “Borat.”
Even now, four years after the film left the multiplexes, people here still bristle at Sacha Baron Cohen’s portrayal of a buffoonish television reporter from Kazakhstan named Borat Sagdiyev, who has various misadventures in the United States and at home. The film was — and still is — considered an affront to the Kazakh national character. (Even its full name — “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” — was unflattering.)
“I want to show modern Kazakhstan, as it is in reality,” Mr. Rakishev said. “After the original film, everyone around the world started mocking the Kazakh people. We were made to look crazy, wild, barbarous. It was not the truth.”
Mr. Rakishev was certainly right. Kazakhstan, a vast former Soviet republic in Central Asia with a vibrant economy driven by oil and other natural resources, bears almost no resemblance to the place caricatured in Mr. Baron Cohen’s film.
So, would Mr. Rakishev’s retort be a documentary that extolled prosperous Kazakh cities like Almaty, the commercial capital, with its megamalls, coffee bars and boutiques selling the latest Parisian labels? Would it be a polemic that denounced Western imperialism for using cinema to undermine emerging nations like Kazakhstan?
Not exactly. Coming soon to theaters near you (all right, mostly Kazakh ones): “My Brother, Borat,” a film that seeks to portray today’s Kazakhstan with some curious narrative devices. Like an amorous donkey. Which somehow has its way with Borat’s loopy brother. Who then gets pregnant. And the two get married.
Remind us again how this is supposed to improve the image of Kazakhstan?
“It’s a black comedy,” Mr. Rakishev said. “If we do a comedy for the Kazakh people, in the West, they may not understand it. In Kazakhstan, they understand a donkey.”
He screened footage that he had already shot. A half-naked man with a flamboyant mustache raced through the streets, arms flailing. A demented grandmother pummeled some cringing adversaries. Many awkward cross-cultural encounters.
It all seemed a bit familiar. Was the film a Kazakh riposte to “Borat” — or a homage?
“Yes, we want to show modern Kazakhstan, but if we do it in a boring way, no one is going to be interested in it,” Mr. Rakishev said.
In the plot, an American named John enjoys the original movie and decides that he must visit Kazakhstan itself to see this bizarre land with his own eyes. But when he arrives, he discovers that Kazakhstan is (surprise!) a wonderful country.
John is puzzled and seeks some help tracking down Borat himself from Borat’s brother, Bilo, who is mentioned in the original film. Bilo now happens to be in a psychiatric hospital in Kazakhstan, along with patients who think that they are George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden.
Bilo escapes from the hospital with John, is bitten by a rabid dog, turns feral, gets beaten up by the grandmother and has his encounter with the donkey. The protagonists scheme to buy the Statue of Liberty and move it to Kazakhstan. And so on.
Mr. Rakishev did not explain exactly how all this was intended to reflect positively on his homeland. But it was evident that he was pleased with the script — so much so that while recounting various scenes, he burst into teary-eyed laughter and the interview had to be halted temporarily.
He would not, however, give away all the twists. For example, John also gets pregnant. By whom? “I am not telling you!” Mr. Rakishev declared before his words were lost in high-pitched giggles.
The film is being shot in Russian — which, along with Kazakh, is one of the nation’s two main languages. Classically trained actors from Almaty’s top dramatic theater have the roles of John and Bilo.
Roman Khikalov, who plays John, acknowledged that the film had some lowbrow moments, but he maintained that it did provide a glimpse of Kazakhstan itself.
“It’s very visual,” Mr. Khikalov said. “We show the modern city, the mountains, the beauty of the country.”
Mr. Rakishev said he started working on the film after “Borat” was released in 2006, but abandoned it because of a lack of financing. He said he was able to resume production only recently.
He also said he would not mind distributing the film in the United States, though there was the matter of possible copyright violation.
“If they want to sue me, fine,” he said. “But they will have no right to. Who gave them the right to humiliate our nation? I am ready to stick up for my nation before any judge.”
Whether Mr. Baron Cohen would take offense — or head to the courts — could not be ascertained. A spokesman for the actor said he would not comment.
While the Kazakh government was highly annoyed by the original “Borat” and effectively banned it from the theaters, Mr. Rakishev said officials were not supporting his venture, financially or otherwise. He said they seemed to prefer to never again have to hear the word “Borat.”
Even so, Mr. Rakishev was plowing ahead. He said the end of “My Brother, Borat” would reveal to the world what everyone should have known about the original film: that it was shot in Romania, and that Mr. Baron Cohen was not Kazakh, but British.
Still, it was hard to shake the sense that Mr. Rakishev admired Mr. Baron Cohen’s talents. But when pressed, he would not say anything positive about the “Borat” movie.
Mr. Khikalov was not as reluctant.
“The truth,” he said, “is that I laughed a lot.”