Well, that’s just great: Everyone is talking about Borat again. When the surprise sequel to the 2006 hit movie was announced last month, it seemed reasonable to wonder whether Borat Subsequent Moviefilm would possibly command even a fraction of the audience the first one did. So much time has passed, so many of its lines have had the humor suffocated out of them by being incessantly quoted by its legion of fans. But now, thanks to a climactic scene that was covered to death Wednesday, the day the movie’s review embargo lifted, former New York mayor and President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani is the new “This is my wife.” (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm will be released on Amazon this Friday.)
“Rudy Giuliani faces questions after compromising scene in new Borat film,” reads The Guardian’s headline. “How Rudy Giuliani Got Caught Red-Handed With Borat’s Daughter,” teases the Daily Beast. “Giuliani caught in hotel bedroom scene in new Borat film,” says ABC News. If you haven’t yet caught up on this story, what follows could be considered spoilers.
The scene in question is the film’s de facto climax, in which Tutar (Maria Bakalova), the daughter of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, poses as a journalist and interviews Giuliani in a hotel. The 15-year-old Tutar (in real life, Bakalova is reportedly 24) is used as a diplomatic pawn by Borat to help ingratiate his home country of Kazakhstan to America. First she is offered to Mike Pence (whose name Borat pronounces “Pennis,” like someone mispronouncing “penis”) at CPAC in a stunt that was widely reported in February, and then Borat decides to attempt to gift her to Giuliani. He decides against it, but when the previously feral Tutar hears that Borat will be executed if he does not achieve this diplomatic goal, she offers herself.
When Giuliani arrives to their interview, he is smiley and flirty with a woman who is several generations younger than he is. So is she. She tells him she is nervous at the start of the interview and he holds both of her hands and tells her she’ll do great. He says absurd things about covid-19, blaming China for manufacturing and deliberately spreading its coronavirus, and estimating that Trump’s actions saved a million lives. They discuss the idea that it was spread by eating bat—he asks if she’s ever eaten it and she says no, but that she would with him. He plays along and says he will. She touches his leg and tells him he’s funny.
Giuliani’s familiarity with his interviewer is inappropriate. From another regime, it might be shocking, but it’s hardly a surprise that someone whose boss extolled the virtues of grabbing women by the pussy takes the bait that has been offered repeatedly by this production. Like many of those with whom Baron Cohen and Bakalova interact in this movie that blends fiction with documentary, Giuliani was apparently unaware that he was appearing in the Borat sequel and told the New York Post in July that he ended up calling the cops on Baron Cohen as a result.
In disguise, Borat interrupts the interview and once Tutar clears him from the room, she touches Giuliani’s leg again to apologize. “Shall we have a drink in the bedroom?” she asks him. He agrees. In the bedroom, they help each other remove their mics; his apparently requires her to pull up his shirt. He sits on the bed, and asks her for her phone number and address and pats the small of her back. He leans back on the bed and puts his hands in his pants. It’s unclear why, but the least charitable interpretation of the lingering of his hand under his pants is that he’s fondling himself while pretending to tuck back in his shirt, which was removed by Bakalova. Borat storms in, wearing a bra and underwear, shouting, “She 15, she too old for you.” Giuliani asks why he’s dressed like that. The scene ends with Borat telling Giuliani that Trump will be disappointed that he didn’t receive a golden shower.
None of this is nearly as damning as Baron Cohen and director Jason Woliner apparently want it to be. Giuliani leaped into a set trap with perhaps more gusto than your average public figure, but he was lured there quite consciously for the express purpose of embarrassing him. The scene’s To Catch a Predator gotcha vibes will not persuade anyone on either side of the political divide: Liberals will say he looks like a creep, conservatives will say that that’s only because he was set up to look that way by a woman who flirted with him and invited him into a bedroom.
Much of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm exists to shoot fish in a barrel and is fueled by confirmation bias, as Borat and his daughter travel through the South, coaxing bigotry and idiocy out of apparently unsuspecting bumpkins. This includes leading attendees of an outdoor concert in a sing-along of “Inject him with the Wuhan flu,” in reference to Barack Obama and Anthony Fauci, getting a hardware store employee to high-five him over Trump putting Mexicans in cages, and performing a dance with Tutar at a debutante ball that involves her pulling up her dress to reveal her period-stained underwear and thighs, much to the disgust of many of the partygoers. A recurring gag involves Borat surprising men with pictures of penises, speaking of inappropriate. Borat’s defining antisemitism is taken to seemingly cruel extremes when he enters a synagogue carrying a fake money bag and wearing a hat with synthetic payot attached, a giant nose, bat wings, talon-like fingernails. He tells a woman who identifies herself as a Holocaust survivor that the Holocaust never happened. She receives him with kindness and patience. The woman, named Judith Dim Evans, has since died and her estate has reportedly filed a lawsuit over the scene. (Deadline’s reporting on the suit states that Baron Cohen “had someone tell Evans and the friend who shares the scene with her that Baron Cohen himself is Jewish and playing an ignorant character as a means of Holocaust education.”) Besides her, the most compassionate and sensible person in the movie is a Black woman named Jeanise Jones that Borat hires to look after Tutar.
The first Borat movie was somewhat controversial for its depiction of Kazakhstan, antisemitism, and casual bigotry among Americans. Perhaps then this seemed shocking; given everything that’s happened in this country in the ensuing time, only those who have been living under a rock will be surprised at Baron Cohen’s ability to get Americans to go along with his character’s ignorance and contempt for those who aren’t like them. Regarding his character, Baron Cohen said in 2006: “Borat works essentially as a tool. By himself being antisemitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it’s antisemitism or an acceptance of antisemitism.. I think part of the movie shows the absurdity of holding any form of racial prejudice, whether it’s hatred of African-Americans or of Jews.” This all holds true, though there’s clearly some fun that is supposed to be had with Borat’s accent and general backwardness as a foreigner, most blatantly evidenced in scenes that only occur between him and his daughter and don’t involve coercing unsuspecting subjects to let down their guards. And yet, I suppose that’s even more baiting: He’s daring you to find humor in the stereotypes he presents. The joke’s on you, but only if you laugh.