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Brno
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Brno – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Flamboyant Austrian fashionista Brüno (Baron Cohen) is sacked as the presenter of Austria’s premiere fashion TV show when his all-velcro suit causes chaos on the catwalk.
With no other purpose to his life, he determines to make something of himself in the land of opportunity – America. Where else could he become the most famous gay Austrian since Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, after all?!
With his besotted assistant Lutz (Hammarsten) in tow, Brüno’s journey from unknown nobody to infamous nobody sees him trying everything from launching a celebrity chat show, through attempting to get kidnapped by terrorists to negotiating peace in the Middle East – shocking, or at the very least confusing, everyone he meets on the way.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

If you’re not open-minded, you’re probably one of those this film is mocking, so it’s not for you. But if you’re liberal enough to think that homophobia doesn’t belong in the twenty first century and snobbish enough to think that the celebrity culture has gone too far, then you will find much to laugh at.
It’s often edge of the seat stuff – whincingly funny – but not actually as clever as its predecessor, Borat. Neither is it a step forward from Borat, in any sense.
There are two main problems, although neither will stop you laughing – they’ll only fade any sense of Baron Cohen’s comic genius.
Firstly, there’s a lack of focus – the film-makers don’t appear to be entirely sure who is the target of their satire. Is it celebrity, the media, homophobia – or even homosexuality. At times, Brüno is SO outrageous that he almost seems to be mocking the politically correct who say we have to accept everyone than he is the conservative who refuse to accept him. And there’s also a sense that whereas in the more focussed Borat, he was a Jewish man playing an ignorant anti-Semite, here, he’s a straight man playing the campest of gay icons in modern cinema. Jews can tell jokes about Jews, but can straight men make jokes about homosexuality? It’s certainly at its most inspired when it mocks celebrity.
Secondly, there’s no doubt that some of the set-ups are staged while others are certainly entirely genuine. But sometimes, it’s not clear to the audience which characters know what. Why this matters is that as a viewer, it helps to know what you’re being asked to laugh at – if a terrorist leader that he’s insulting has been briefed about what’s about to happen, it’s a scripted comedy, if not, this is a performer genuinely putting his life on the line.
One, arguably, is clever – the other, perhaps, insane. Is it a film about a character who’s simply out to make us laugh – or is it about a character who’s trying to show how brave he is? If you laugh, does it even matter why you laugh? Is it better if your laugh is tinged with nervous apprehension?
When I saw this film, I thought it would be the most outrageous film of the year – but then I saw Antichrist – but at least this isn’t taking itself at all seriously.
But in this sense, I guess it’s big, but is it clever? It’s not hard for a flamboyant gay man to shock a redneck American audience – but actually, even liberal lefty Brits might flinch somewhat at some of the so-called humour. Are we laughing at him, are we laughing at Americans or are we laughing at ourselves?

WHAT ELSE?

One of the funniest – and least offensive – scenes, parodying celebrity rather than homophobia, features Brüno’s desperate attempt to achieve fame by hosting a TV chat show. Unable to find any guests, he scrapes the bottom of the barrel and finds La Toya Jackson. In one of the sharpest moments, he claims that part of his show involves them comparing Blackberries. She hands hers over and he starts flicking through her contacts to find Michael Jackson’s number.
After the singer’s death, the distributors, Üniversal (as it appears before the film!), cut this scene, out of respect for the Jackson family.
Oddly, perhaps, in the circumstances, for someone making a light jibe at the Jacksons, it’s not directed at the singer himself or any of his undoubted quirks, but at his sister. And all it’s saying, really, is that she’s so desperate for exposure that she’ll do any show.
It’s humorous, well-observed, almost charming – and yes, perhaps La Toya might have been offended – but was it right to cut the scene – out of respect for her family – because her brother died?
If anything, the film was not mocking Michael Jacson, but praising him as one of the few celebrities worth speaking to.
And this isn’t the only bit of re-editing that’s been taking place. The distributors have also decided to cut a 15 certificate version of the film, for younger audiences. Personally, my advice would be to wait three years and watch it properly.

Opens 10 July 09

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