What if Bilo made a film about us?
11 January 2011
What if Bilo made a film about us?
Like many successful films, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan has inspired a sequel. The more simply named My Brother Borat will shortly be released, and its director, Erkin Rakishev, is to make a promotional visit to Britain this weekend.
The British press which, like Borat’s creator, Sacha Baron Cohen, finds foreigners irresistibly funny, has already moved into mocking mode. Rakishev, we are told, intends to hold a press conference accompanied by a life-size Sacha Baron Cohen doll. “I plan to do a performance,” he told one reporter. “I want to take my shoe and punch the doll with my shoe, repeating, ‘Cohen, you were not right. Cohen, you were not right.’ ”
Typically, the media have underestimated this sophisticated director. Although the press release suggests that My Brother Borat will tell the story of Borat’s simpleton brother travelling through Kazakhstan, it is simply part of an elaborate joke worthy of Baron Cohen himself. The real subject of the film, an unnamed Kazakh source has told me, is England.
Rakishev has always been fascinated by the contradictions of England and, following the success of Borat, a Kazakh caricature created by an Englishman, he decided to explore whether people in this country would enjoy being laughed at as much as laughing at others.
In the film, Borat’s brother Bilo is intellectually challenged but he lives in Henley. The beneficiary of the family oil business, he has been educated at Eton and is hoping to become a naturalised Englishman.He goes on a journey through England, trying to understand the nature of its people. “Bilo is an everyman figure, trying to bring simple Kazakh common sense and humanity to your country,” my confidential source told me. “Unfortunately, in the film, his goodheartedness is misunderstood by the English – with hilarious results!”
Details of the film remain confidential, but it is rumoured that in one scene Bilo attends an Old Etonian reunion, where he meets several members of the Cabinet and puts out feelers for being given a safe seat, on the grounds that he has the right qualifications: Eton and a private fortune. He receives a call from Tory headquarters the next day.
In Kazakhstan, there is genuine curiosity as to why in England people who have appeared on TV acquire semi-religious status. In the simple belief that the famous must actually be more virtuous than others, Bilo attends a Children in Need dinner and auction at the Grosvenor Hotel. As Davina McCall gets things under way, Bilo arrives at the door accompanied by 20 Albanian child beggars. A PR woman explains to him that Children in Need is about positive publicity and that celebrities are very particular about their private space. In the end, it is agreed that a couple of the more attractive children can attend the gathering, having been given a TV makeover.
Bilo is fascinated by the English sense of humour. In Kazakhstan, Fawlty Towers is widely watched, but as a tragedy. An earnest debate has been conducted in the national press as to whether Harry Hill is a vicious parody of an unfunny comedian. As part of his quest, Bilo will go to the National Film Theatre, where he will roar with laughter at the zany theatrics of Dame Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth. On the other hand, he will be surprised and disappointed that the audience laughs at Dawn French on a TV chat show. In his native country, he says, laughing at a woman because of her size is thought to be ill-mannered.
One of the themes of My Brother Borat is the question of offensiveness. Startled at complaints when a radio interviewer mistakenly calls a cabinet minister by the name of a female private part (which is actually a compliment in his country), he tries to discover why the English are so easily affronted.
The film closes with Bilo meeting Britain’s most famous aristocrat, Lord Sugar, for tips on English style, wit and manners.
Independent, Friday, 10 December 2010