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Bruno: The Genius and the Folly

Bruno: The Folly and the Genius

by Roger Young / 13.07.2009

We’ll assume that you’ve seen Bruno by now. First off, if you’re offended by anything that happens in Bruno you are an idiot, which is kind of the point.  Secondly, what Sascha Baron Cohen is trying to do is not so much entertainment but more like activism. Stealth activism. The fact that one of the many things he deflates during the course of Bruno is celebrity activism shows either his deep dedication to, or his deep disregard for, his own message.

Essentially, one has to look at SBC’s approach as a natural extension of the Method espoused by the Strasberg studio in the fifties, an approach to acting that defined Marlon Brando’s style and much of the early careers of De Niro and Pacino. SBC has taken this much further than merely becoming a character to tell a story. He inhabits hysterical stereotypical roles in order to explore society’s perception of those stereotypes. There is a lot of “uncomfortable” comedy about these days – Ricky Gervais’s Extras and Zach Galifianakis’s talk show, Between Two Ferns, to name two.  But most of it is staged and seems to have those difficult moments as the end game. With Bruno the end game is nothing short of shokabuku, a swift spiritual kick to the head.

The character of Bruno does not represent an actual gay man, but is rather a pastiche of various preconceptions of gay men, taken to the extreme. SBC uses Bruno the Austrian fashion TV presenter’s desire for fame as a way of exploring just how far people are willing to go to get their chance at celebrity. And he does so by using Bruno as a conduit for other people to grab at stardom, from fashion models to parents to priests.  Many times during the movie we are reminded that there is a camera filming all of it, because there are many moments where people slowly realize that their boundaries are being pushed and try to shut the camera down, or try to get the camera out of the room. It may be incredibly humorous but how effective is this approach really?

Bruno: the Folly and the Genius 2

At the public screening I attended, four people walked out in the first twenty minutes. There were more to follow. SBC seems not to want to change the headspaces of those that do not get the joke, however if you get the joke your headspace does not need to be changed. This is Bruno’s central failing as a work of activism. But (mostly) he does not use his subjects as mere amusement; there seems to be a  central message that could simply be that this level of intolerance is still out there. 

It’s interesting to note that an interview with LaToya Jackson was cut from the film after her brother’s death. It would have been easy for SBC to trade on this interview to give his film more buzz. It shows that his approach is not merely shock for shock’s sake, even though there are sometimes obvious lapses from this method, and that he is not out to case harm purely for enrichment. And even though it may piss off more than enlighten its targets, that is the only because, clearly, many of his targets are beyond engaging in reasonable debate

You could consider Bruno as a deeply subversive film or merely a shock comedy that goes for laughs at any cost. The genius of SBC is that he doesn’t provide answers to these questions. And, for his amazing preparation and risk-taking, you have got to admire his balls and, of course, his talking penis.

Click here for an interview with SBC on how he got the interview with a terrorist.

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  1. Miles says:


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  2. Anonymous says:

    is it just me or does bruno look a lot like andy davis in that photo?

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  3. Graeme Feltham says:

    Do you mean the flaring nostrils?

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  4. Paul Blom says:

    Bruno was not only hilarious, but as social commentary (like Borat) quite revealing, reminding us of what we already know about American society – eg. one of the biggest shockers is not Bruno’s dildo exercise bike, but the backstage parents who OK the most outrageous conditions their kids will be exposed to in Bruno’s baby photo shoot.

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  5. Graeme Feltham says:

    i dunno, hey, zeno. skiem its lekker to just pluck to the ou and his gedagtes. dunno about conversions and the converted and the doffies just know another sharp ou once said when they said repent, i wonder what they meant

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  6. Anonymous says:

    it’s more the facial structure, outfit and that cat claw that give him away…

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  7. Tara says:

    The thing about SBC is that he doesnt merely touch on and objectify Society’s prejudices and follies, he climbs into (and onto them) and is brazen enough to break them open from the inside (even if it is sometimes through the action of rubbing himself up against them). What impresses the most is that through all his crazed searching for fame – when he succeeds in creating a gravitational pull, those chairs that people throw still miss him.

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  8. The Oracle says:

    Is Bruno completely queer or what ????

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  9. Talibun says:

    Fuckin loved it.
    I know and have lived with many a queer.
    He is a little camp and OTT reminds me of club Therapy.
    But the talking penis genius! Loved that ( So Funny)

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