Schadenfreude. There is no more precise word to describe the spectacle that is Bruno. I was laughing and cringing right out of the gates and all through the muddy-tracked horse race of a film.
I went with high expectations for new depths. How could Sacha Baron Cohen outshock the audiences of his other 5-letter-long film starting with a B? What other crowds would he incite to near riot? What other unknowing victims could he exploit? The film was everything I wanted it to be and much, much more.
Some more conservative folks may be shocked and outraged by the Cohen’s antics, but I find them to be nothing short of brilliant. There are some things about American culture that are not so desirable, that are even despicable, and Cohen creates situations that bring to the surface this ugliness for all to see. For example, in one part of the film, he interviews parents about what things they would be willing to let their children do to be in a photo shoot, things that would even endanger the children. (No doubt, promises of money were involved, although this particular fact is not even mentioned in the film.) Without much thought, one parent even agreed to let her baby go through cosmetic surgery.
Homophobia, of course, is a main theme of the film. While he plays on more extreme stereotypes of homosexuality, he openly expresses and displays aspects in such a way as to desensitize and to naturalize. I was very strongly affected (and entertained) by the penultimate scene in the film because it was filmed in the city in and around which I grew up: Fort Smith, Arkansas. Cohen brilliantly sets up a cage match, drawing in the most concentrated of redneckery and machismo. When the fight turns into a make-out session between Bruno and his â€œassistant,â€ all hell breaks loose. Some spectators run out the building, some throw things into the ring, others are totally traumatized, fear contorting their countenances in infantile whimpering. All the while, Cohen and his costar (Gustaf Hammarsten) make out totally unshaken while plastic cups of beer, various clothing articles, and even fold-up metal chairs rain down around them.
Of course, much of the film is just silliness intended to entertain at the expense of the unknowing and uninitiated. (This is where the Schade comes in.) Most significant in this respect was the scene involving presidential candidate Ron Paul. Bruno gets him to come to a hotel room under the pretence of an interview but starts to make advances at him (supposedly getting him confused (obviously on a purely nominative level) with Rupaul). Ron Paul’s understandable discomfort and not-so-politically-correct reactionary comments create palpable tension. (I have to admit, in view of what R.P. actually said, I am not so much a fan as I used to be.) Exploitative? Yes. Deserved? Debatable.
This film is certainly not for the easily offended, not even for the marginally liberal. Explicit sexuality and language run rampant. Nevertheless, I really don’t think it was gratuitous. Harsh satire and parody and blatant exploitation stir up thought. The stunt at the MTV Music Awards and Eminem’s humorless reaction were a foregleam of the chaos and exposÃ© which is Bruno.
Personally, I look forward to the Freude of the DVD release with deleted scenes.