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Rachel Winterbottom on a new genre in cinema: horr-edy

Written by . Published on July 14th 2009.


Brüno is Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest character to get the full mockumentary treatment. Audience members who’ve seen Borat will know what to expect: candid camera, Baron Cohen staying in full character throughout and the true stars of the piece being, once again, the oblivious public and hapless celebrities. Only, where Borat was about racism, this offering focuses on homophobia and the somewhat lighter subject of the shallow road to fame. You might think this means that Brüno couldn’t possibly be anywhere near as risqué. You’d be wrong.

Then, just when you’re feeling desensitised by it all, along comes a 30 second video of Brüno’s penis.

It begins with Brüno at the height of his fame with his own TV show in Austria. He meets his downfall when he decides to wear a Velcro suit to the Milan fashion week and it attracts a hoard of designer outfits as he tumbles out onto the stage. Dumped by his TV series and his pigmy air steward boyfriend, he decides to go to the USA to be the “biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler”.

At times Brüno is so inappropriate you’ll be watching through your fingers, crying out ‘Oh my god!’ as each scene climaxes to one unbelievable peak after the next. This comedy is so explicit, it borders on horror. It’s horr-edy. You’ll laugh and gasp in equal measure as Brüno catapults from one outrageous act to the next in his bid to win fame and fortune in the USA.

It is a social commentary but it still seems that Baron Cohen will literally stop at nothing to get the laughs. You’re never entirely sure whether there is genuine danger in the situations he throws himself into. Whether he’s running through an anti-gay rally while strapped naked to another man, asking to be kidnapped by terrorists, or kissing a man while a homophobic crowd bays for his blood; there is no doubt that he’s willing to suffer for his art.

Baron Cohen does arguably take it too far when he gets involved in the Middle Eastern conflict. Especially when he meets with supporters on opposite sides and declares that Al-Qaida is “so 2001”. There are some places that comedy just shouldn’t go. Even so, you might struggle to get up on your high horse while you’re laughing at Brüno interviewing a former Mossad agent and a Palestinian academic about hummus (rather than Hamas) and the dangers of pitta bread.

It seems unbelievable, but there is some heart in this film. In between gratuitous sex scenes and general outrage, there is a love story between Brüno and his assistant Lutz (an equally ballsy Gustaf Hammarsten), that is, much like the friendship between Borat and his sidekick, genuinely sweet. It isn’t a Baron Cohen film without a bit of naked male bonding. Or in this case, bondage.

As outrageous as Brüno is, the whole concept wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the (un)willing participants. Paula Abdul sits on a Mexican while talking about her charity work, a psychic waits, unmoved, while Brüno mimes performing unbelievably vivid oral sex on a deceased member of Milli Vanilli, and a reality TV star merrily declares “Abort!” when asked what Jamie-Lynn Spears should do about her unborn child. At least Brüno’s lines are scripted.

Then, just when you’re feeling desensitised by it all, along comes a 30 second video of Brüno’s penis. The scariest thing is, in this Hollywood world where people say, in all seriousness, “Speaking of rectums, let’s have a look at yours,” sometimes Brüno doesn’t actually stand out.

This point is stamped home by the auditions for Brüno’s “Hottest baby photo shoot ever”. It highlights pushy parents to the extreme with some willing to agree to anything that Brüno says so their kids get the part in the photo shoot. From letting their toddlers operate heavy machinery to giving them liposuction. You can practically see Baron Cohen’s eyes lighting up with glee behind Brüno’s streaked locks, like he’s the Austrian Louis Theroux.

Baron Cohen is there to set people up and expose their true viewpoints. Many of the participants seem like ordinary people forced to react to situations outside their comfort zone. You can’t help but feel that most of his victims are quite naive really. “How do you protect yourself from a black dildo?” asks Brüno of a self-defence tutor. “Well,” replies the man after a small pause. “One is just as easy as the other to defend against.”

Directed by Larry Charles, who also did Borat, Brüno may be using last season’s format but it’s not by any means stilted. As long as there are bigoted people out there, Sacha Baron Cohen will have his subjects. Rude, daring and full of dirty laughs; it’s a guilty pleasure you shouldn’t miss. Grab a showing before the re-edited 15 certificate version comes out. In the words of Brüno himself: Why not? Come on. Whatever.


Brüno (18) is in cinemas now.

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BigOJuly 14th 2009.

he's half a man, half a girl Torres... Torres...

CasJuly 14th 2009.

Is it just me who thinks he looks like Fernando Torres?

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