New York critic David Edelstein has parked his Lexus in the same Borat garage as New Yorker critic Anthony Lane. He’s confessed that he finally found Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy “depressing,” and summoned impressions of “a bear-baiting or pigsticking.
“The comic imagination flowers on the dark-and-twisted end of the spectrum; in return for making you laugh, the artist has license to express rude truths in the rudest manner he or she can imagine. Most clowns have a wide streak of sadism, but it’s tempting to think of Cohen as a sadist with a wide streak of clownishness.” The comic servings in Borat, Edelstein feels, amount to “a cry of pain.
“The squirm-und-drang genre has its forebears, among them Albert Brooks, but I would guess that it has caught on now because it’s grounded in a documentary (or mockumentary) aesthetic. The Sultan of Squirm is surely Cohen, a sublime caricaturist whose hairbreadth timing can make you gasp [with his] righteously malicious agenda.
“To understand what Baron Cohen’s Borat is up to in part, it helps to consider the most notorious scenes in Claude Lanzmann‘s nine-and-a-half-hour Holocaust documentary, Shoah, in which the director trains his camera on Polish peasants who lived near the Nazis’ most lethal concentration camps while they were in full swing. Under Lanzmann’s probing, these old men and women — some of them residing on property seized from the Jews — murmur that yes, it was a terrible thing, the exterminations. Just terrible. But of course, the Jews did bring it on themselves, didn’t they?”
Exactly! This is precisely why I feel Borat is so brilliant, and in part why I didn’t laugh as much as others sitting next to me; I just sat there, open-mouthed. Cohen has taken the concept of the quiet ghastly realization in a documentary (like the one in Shoah) and flipped it over into reflective-absurdist comedy.