Sacha Baron Cohen shocked the film industry in 2006 when his Kazakhstani reporter character Borat (played by Cohen) got a feature-length film that showcased his ability to coax uncomfortable honesty out of gullible people for the benefit of shock comedy. Cohen went after big-ticket subjects – racism, intolerance, skewed politics – and is doing so again in the sequel Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. But one prank that is pivotal to the movie is making major headlines and is bound to have a serious effect on the political landscape.
While this scene is not a spoiler, per se, we will have to get into the details of a significant scene that happens near the end of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Stop reading now if you do not want to know anything more about the comedy, which lands on Amazon Prime on October 23.
The plot of the movie, if you can call it that, involves Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) attempting to give a “gift” to Mike Pence so that Kazakhstan can get back in the good graces of America. The gift is supposed to be a monkey – this makes more sense in the movie – but Borat has to pivot and start to offer his “daughter,” Tutar (played brilliantly by Maria Bakalova) to political leaders. The joke being that anyone who qualifies – from Michael Flynn to Michael Cohen – are imprisoned.
Eventually, Borat and his daughter settle on former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. If Borat is unable to “deliver” the girl to Giuliani as a gift, he will have to head home to Kazakhstan and face extermination. So they stage a scenario where Tutar poses as a journalist interviewing Giuliani on camera in New York City hotel room. And what plays out is jaw-dropping.
The interview is going normally. Bakalova, playing Tutar, acts intimidated and deferential to Giuliani, who encourages her, tells her she is doing great, and supports her interview style. At one point, Sacha Baron Cohen – disguised as an audio tech – interrupts the interview and speaks with both Giuliani and Bakalova, even sneaking in a joke about Giuliani marrying his own cousin. This very clearly IS Rudy Giuliani, and no deception or slight-of-hand is occurring on screen.
As the interview concludes, Bakalova asks Giuliani if he’d like to “have a drink” in the back bedroom. He agrees. To be fair, her back is to the camera, and this bit of audio could have been added in post. We hear her say that, but do not see it. In the bedroom, we can see Rudy Giuliani fiddling with Bakalova’s dress before sitting on the bed. We hear Giuliani say:
You can give me your phone number, and your address.
And he reaches up and strokes Maria Bakalova’s back. She appears to be messing with his shirt, and the first time I watched the scene, I assumed she was removing a microphone wire that might have been run up through his dress shirt for the purpose of the interview. Why she would do this for him, I do not know.
Now, the moment that looks most suspicious, and one that I assume will be discussed and debated for days. Rudy Giuliani lays back on the bed. He reaches his hands into his pants, and on subsequent viewings, it looks like he might be tucking his shirt back in. But before anything else can happen, Sacha Baron Cohen bursts back into the room, warning Giuliani that his “daughter” is only 15, and that she is too old for him. Naturally, Baron Cohen is wearing lacy underwear as he bursts in the room. This is Borat, after all.
Was it a prank, or something far more incriminating? The scene certainly looks like it could have been manipulated, with edits and audio cues that raise suspicion. But the video itself is shocking, and has been an immediate subject of discussion now that the review embargo on Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie has been lifted.
Rudy Giuliani did address this awkward situation in July 2020. The New York Post reports that Giuliani called the police over the prank, stating:
This guy [Baron Cohen] comes running in, wearing a crazy, what I would say was a pink transgender outfit. It was a pink bikini, with lace, underneath a translucent mesh top, it looked absurd. He had the beard, bare legs, and wasn’t what I would call distractingly attractive. … This person comes in yelling and screaming, and I thought this must be a scam or a shake-down, so I reported it to the police. He then ran away.
So the news of this interaction has been out there since July. But now that the public will be able to see it, once the movie lands on Amazon Prime, we are beginning to wonder what impact it will have, if any, on Rudy Giuliani.