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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bruno ist mies

Dir. Larry Charles
Contents: graphic sex, copious amounts of graphic nudity, strong language; if this had been an indie film it would have gotten an NC-17, thoug it would have been lucky to even get that.

Borat is one of the funniest films of all-time, at least since Airplane! and was one of the best films this decade. A ferocious Swiftian satire mixed with ambush journalism and Everyman influenced semi-expressionistic metaphor (stranger wonders through strange land looking for a transcendental female subject, instead finding horrific figures along the way). But one thing that Borat does, that Bruno fails so often to do, is not hate its characters. Borat may have been anti-Semitic and misogynistic but there was a strangely redeeming quality in his bizarre optimism. Bruno fails because Cohen doesn't know what to do with Bruno. He's a uber-gay stereotype, but he's also a European stereotype, and its difficult to figure out if he was going to challenge both, one, or as it turns out, neither. Making him an Austrian, a Nazi-sympathising one no-less, totally negates the homophobia that Cohen may be hoping to expose. As a foreign "other" it's the European stereotypes which often are the more confrontational; had he just been an American gay stereotype it may have been a more challenging and perhaps substantial film. Instead its a mess of Cohen placing Bruno into set-up situations where he makes people feel uncomfortable, usually by getting naked. One scene actually reminded me of one of the better Satires this decade, Mike Judge's Idiocracy, and the successful film in that world: "Balls," when Cohen shows, well, balls, for an overlong period of time, really for the sake of showing balls and getting a "omg!" response from the crowd. Seriously, is this what we find funny?

It also hurts that the film's "targets" are sympathetic; Bruno is going for a response and goes to the breaking point until he gets it, while in Borat, the character created a more natural response. For instance, his persistently annoying advances on sleeping hunters, probably more upset by his waking them up at 3 am than his flamboyant come-ons, and the unfunny interview with Ron Paul, both push the "targets" until finally there's an expletive laden breakdown of the scene, but really nothing revealed or gained. The only scene which does is when Bruno interviews stage parents about what situations their kids would be willing to be in for a photo shoot. Bruno literally runs by a golden opportunity, when in Topeka, KS he runs into followers of hatemonger Fred Phelps, but doesn't stop to interact with them.

Borat had a silly goal, but it worked. Bruno wants to get famous for some reason, though his situations don't really work toward that goal, and the film is aimless. This type of comedy has a fine-line between exploitative and interrogative of the people present in the film and the way it is presented to the audience. The line is usually context; and here the film's antics are given the loosest possible context: exposing homo-phobia. In reality, that progressive, or feigned progressive cause is really just an excuse to get away with using a gay stereotype and quell it's audience's liberal guilt. This film, unlike Borat, is just comedic exportation.

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