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TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL

Splashy entry, but about that exit, Borat ...

September 09, 2006|Jason Chow | Special to The Times

TORONTO — Tickets were scalped for as much as six times face value, some going for more than $100. Michael Moore called it the best movie he's seen all year. Hollywood superagent Ari Emmanuel was in attendance. A throng of more than 500 people chanted "Borat!" And the faux-Kazakh journalist himself played up the hype, coming down the red carpet on a horse cart pulled by six women in peasant costume.

The midnight screening of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" at the Toronto International Film Festival should have been the scene of the 10-day extravaganza. But unfortunately for the alter ego of British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, Thursday simply would not be Borat's night. Twenty minutes into the film, the projector broke and not even Michael Moore could fix it.

The mockumentary, based on the character from Cohen's hit TV series "Da Ali G Show," has been the most anticipated film thus far at the festival, with ticket lines going around the block hours before the screening. Fans carried Kazakhstan flags and handmade signs greeted Borat, the naive and boorish journalist Cohen portrays in the film.

Media assembled early, tipped off by studio publicists that Borat would arrive with pomp. Indeed, 15 minutes before the scheduled start, he came on the red carpet, atop a wooden cart and standing next to a donkey. Six despondent-looking women dressed to look like Kazakh villagers with dirt smeared on their faces pulled the cart to the front of the theater while traditional Central Asian music blared on loudspeakers. The crowd erupted in cheers, chanting "Borat! Borat!" Dressed in his trademark pale-gray suit, Borat dismounted, signed autographs and gave several awkward high-fives to fans.

TV reporters began interviewing him on the red carpet.

To every female reporter, Borat ventured, "Can I ask you, how much?" as if they were prostitutes.

When asked what he learned from his U.S. travels, he responded in full accent, "I learn that it is no longer legal to shoot at Red Indian and can I apologize to all the staff at the Powhattan Casino in northern Kansas?" A British journalist attempted more serious questions.

Are you propagating bigotry in the film? "Yeah." How will the movie affect Kazakhstan's international reputation? "I hope it will help the people know about Kazakhstan and know that we are now a civilized country like everyone else.... Homosexuals do not have to wear blue hats and the age of consent has been raised to 11 years old."

Are you a valuable cultural export? "I don't understand." But you do. "I don't.... " And Borat moved along the carpet.

Inside the packed theater, the crowd was primed and ready, cheering almost constantly. The film opens with a trip back to Borat's village where he introduces his obese and jealous wife and points out such characters as the town rapist and the mechanic who doubles as an abortionist.

Borat also airs old footage of his play-by-play announcing the Kazakh version of the running of the bulls, which involves Mardi Gras-like caricatures of a Jewish man and woman instead of angry toros. Deemed too offensive by some critics, the Toronto audience erupts in hysterics.

Most of the movie takes place in the U.S., where Borat has been sent by the state-run TV company to enlighten the Kazakhs back home. First stop is New York, where he attempts to greet several men with kisses on the cheek (all met with threats of violence), then he accidentally releases a chicken on a subway car.

But just as Borat meets a humor coach, the film stopped and the crowd instantly jeered.

From his spot at the back of the theater, Borat stood and apologized, then invited the crowd to his hotel room to "shoot dog from window," before leaving his seat to "crush the man who make the projector." Ten minutes later, Moore, a former projectionist, went up to the booth and attempted to solve the problem, but the filmmaker soon left the booth shaking his head, saying there wasn't much he could do.

After 15 more minutes of waiting, Moore took the stage along with the film's director, Larry Charles, known for his work on "Seinfeld," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Entourage," to answer questions. Moore drew a litany of questions about American politics; Charles responded to queries about whether his beard is real or not ("Both"), his favorite episode of "Cheers" ("Oooo, that hurts") and if Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) would remain on the outs in "Entourage" (evading the question by pointing out Ari Emmanuel in the crowd).

After about 40 minutes and an increasingly restless crowd, Borat took the stage. The festival spokesperson asked questions from a prepared script and Borat answered, until the screening was officially canceled.

More jeers rained down on the stage.

"I will give you all free trip to Kazakhstan!" Borat yelled back. "I blame the Jews!"

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