By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 10, 2006
MOSCOW, Nov. 9 -- Russia to Borat: Nyet!
The Russian distributors of "Borat," the box-office hit about a fictional Kazakh journalist's odyssey across the United States, have decided not to release the movie in theaters here after a government agency said it feared that the film might offend certain national and religious groups.
"Well, it is a little dirty," said Yury Vasyuchkov, head of the department for licensing movies at the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography. "I don't think our audience will lose much if it does not see this film."
The movie -- "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" -- is a feature-length gag that mocks not only Kazakhstan but the credulous Americans who fall for the misogynistic, anti-Semitic, homophobic and all-around crass shtick of Borat Sagdiyev, the mock reporter created and played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.
Russian officials are worried their countrymen won't get the joke even if its fattest target is, in some respects, and as Borat would phrase it, the good old US and A.
The movie was scheduled to open at 300 Russian theaters on Nov. 30. Last weekend it was No. 1 at the U.S. box office, taking in $26.4 million and earning generally rave reviews.
Vasyuchkov said his agency acted only after the distributor for Twentieth Century Fox, the movie's producer, voluntarily asked for an official review of the film.
"We sent them a letter saying that we wouldn't recommend the film," said Vasyuchkov. "After that we never heard from them. But I learned from the newspapers that they removed the film from their schedule. There was no official ban."
The Russian distributor declined to comment.
At the Kazakh Embassy in Moscow a weary operator answered "Borat?" before directing a reporter to the press office. "It wasn't our decision so I don't know what to say," said Denis Tsaryov, the embassy's press secretary.
In Kazakhstan, the film has not been officially banned, but it has failed to find a distributor willing to handle it.
Officials in Kazakhstan initially reacted with fury to the character Borat, first seen in the United States on the HBO series "Da Ali G Show." Cohen depicted Kazakhstan, an oil-rich Central Asian republic that borders Russia, as a place of eye-rolling backwardness and racism where the national pastimes included rape, incest, shooting dogs, drinking horse urine and the "running of the Jew." More recently, Kazakh officials have decided to roll with the punches, even inviting Cohen to visit their homeland.
Vasyuchkov noted that the film's failure to get a license for distribution in Russian theaters doesn't extend to the sale of DVD versions.