Sacha Baron Cohen’s Antics Revealed; Three Films from Day One
On day one of SBIFF ‘007, the intrepid or hopeless event hopper could have taken in excellent film experiences from Croatia (Grbavica), Russia (The Italian), and even Iraq (Ahlaam), all highly recommended viewing, and also Kazakhstan… not. Yes, this was the day Borat graced our fair city, in the form of Sacha Baron Cohen (pictured by Paul Wellman), appearing as SBC, in five-o’clock shadow and a baseball cap festooned with a bear. Cohen and his smash hit film descended on the Lobero, with a screening and a strange, strained conversation with the man/men of the hour in Hollywood.
There were three other guys from the movie onstage — the producer and two writers — but frankly, nobody cared about them. Such is the power of a new superstar on the comedic landscape: when he appears, we hang on his every word (of which the mum, and sometimes glum Cohen was reluctant to give much) and await the comic sexy time (which he delivered a bit of, heeding the wisdom of aiming at genitalia, at one point offering a female audience member the chance to confirm that his package was in order).
Pity interviewer Leonard Maltin, who did his level best as straight man/fall guy interviewer on a crooked playing field. But he acquitted himself nicely and even personally registered on the laff Richter scale. Asked if he was innately fearless, Cohen hemmed, hawed, and finally admitted “at the end of the day, I want to make the funniest film possible. Sacrifices have to be made. I was ready to have a man sit on my face.” He also admitted that “Peter Sellers was always my hero. You believed Clousseau really existed.” Ditto Borat. During the audience Q&A segment, Bunny Bernhardt, bless her heart, appeared as a faux Kazakh woman and gave Cohen a bouquet. “I thought she was going to shoot me,” he said after, then asked the next man at the microphone “you have no flowers for me?” At some point, the taciturn Cohen had had enough: “this is the revenge of the American people, isn’t it?”
And the Movies?
From the film front (oh yeah, that), Grbavica is a powerful slice-of-life from post-war Bosnia, in the not-so-peaceful aftermath of the conflicts there. The film, which shows again Sunday, January 28, at the Metro 4, plays like a sober but ultimately hopeful sequel to another, much more harrowing film seen at SBIFF many years ago, Vukovar.
The Italian is the sweetest and most filmic orphan tearjerker you’re likely to find at the moment. (It plays again Tuesday, January 30, 7:30 p.m. at the Lobero and Wednesday, January 31, 4 p.m., at the Metro 4.)
And, quite seriously, writer-director Mohamed Al-Daradji’s brave film Ahlaam, shot guerilla-style in wartorn Baghdad, confirms a core value of this and other film festivals: they connect us with the living, breathing world far outside Hollywood’s petty interest, tapping the contemporary world’s woes and joys in ways mass corporate media has grown increasingly inept at.
After the screening, Al-Daradhi spoke with the audience and explained his rationale for making the film, offering that “the process for me was to say `who are you and what are you doing?’” That’s a stirring manifesto, especially under the circumstances, still raging.