antradienis, spalio 20

Why Brüno frightens Austria?


Since the beginning of July, when Viennese cinema theatres have hosted the first run of Brüno, no one could still frankly claim if not seeing the movie yet, then at least not noticing lemon yellow tight shorts dressed gay hero, allurely looking from the outdoors poster in every corner or every bus stop in the city. Whether Brüno impolitely showed his buttocks to Vienna in the poster, whether he seduced, whether he provocated to accept the rules of the game. His game. It’s a pity, but it seems that Austria already has proudly refused to do it.

One hour and a half full of controversial jokes, comical situations in true or performed reality, provocative dialogs and slightly pornographical scenes (namely because of them, for instance, teenage spectators of Great Britain were able to watch only edited version - two minutes shorter movie in English cinema theatres).

Brüno also ironizes celebrities’ vanity fair, fashion industry, masculinistic and homophobic society, makes rasistic, religious and political remarks and, what is the most painful for Austria, intentionally emphasizes hints on Hitler and Nazi Era. That’s the way Brüno behaves in the movie and that’s the way he teases Austria. Well, mostly Austria.

Who actually is Brüno? Portrayed by English comic Sacha Baron Cohen, he claims to be the most famous Austrian gay. This fictional character, also as Borat from Kazakhstan was, in the movie loses his job in TV fashion show, loses his boyfriend and aims to become the celebrity in America and “the most famous Austrian since Adolf Hitler or Arnold Schwarzenegger”.

After trying to start his unsuccessful, unfortunately, career in American TV, Brüno is ready to pay the price whatever needed for the publicity – adopting an afroamerican child, participating in talk show, heading for the Middle East with request to be kidnapped or deciding to become straight after all.

In Brüno Sacha Baron Cohen uses the same recipe as he had in his first worldwide successful comedy Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. That is his stunning ability to notice and to generalize the flaws of contemporary society, as if to force the society to stand up in front of the distorting mirror, and fascinating remaining naïve in every situation, especially not scripted in advance. This, what could be called as the background of his comedies, even allows the heroes of Sacha Baron Cohen compare with Charlin Chaplin’s The Little Trump, as some of film critics declare.

Firstly Sacha Baron Cohen has appeared as Brüno in 1998 during short sketches of the Paramount Comedy Chanel. Then the character became the guest of Da Ali G Show. Universal Studios decided to make a film Brüno after the great success of Ali G Indahouse (2002) and Borat (2006). All these three remarkable personages were created and performed by Sacha Baron Cohen. By the way, he also was one of the authors of all three screenplays and one of the directors and producers of a film Brüno.

However, one important question still remains open – why Brüno is Austrian gay? According to one guess, while creating the character of Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen was influenced or even inspired by several years he had spent in Vienna in the very beginning of his career.

Quite many speculations arose considering the version that the character of Brüno has got its prototype – whether Austrian television ORF showman Alfons Haider, face of the Dancing Stars, whether fashion editor of Austrian daily Oesterreich Adi Weiss. Both seems to be open for this kind of interpretations, nevertheless they recognize only two possible similarities between them and Brüno – they are all Austrians and they are openly gays.

“It is so obvious Cohen picked a country like Austria – it would not be that interesting if his character was from Milan or Paris”, adds potential alter ego of Brüno Adi Weiss, taking part in a discussion why Brüno is exactly from Austria. And he is partially right.

Creating surroundings of gay “fashionpolizist” Sacha Baron Cohen needed a country with not only significant population of homosexuals (in that way Germany would have suited him better, “In Germany there are even more gays than in Austria”, as admits Brüno himself in the beginning of the film), but also the country which could be well identified by recent mass media coverage, contradictory past and which would be highly vulnerable and sensitive because of it. Austria was the exact country Sacha Baron Cohen needed.

“Austrian dream is to have a job, find a dungeon and raise a family there”, tells Brüno to spectators face and everybody remembers the drama in Josef Fritzl house.

„Kampf, mein is ze fashion bible written by Austria's black sheep Adolf Hitler”, explains he. Or later, looking at the photos of Hollywood celebrities he calls Brad Pitt as Bradalph Pittler and Mel Gibson as der Fuhrer.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brüno plays with stereotypes, juggle with clichés, attaches labels to the past of the country, unmasks the reality and caricatures society with no pricks of conscience. That’s because finding a weak spot, a wound, sifting it well with pepper and hoping that the joke will be roughly insulting serves for the comic as a really good strategy advertising his films. Especially when indignant countries, such as Kazakhstan was and now as Austria is, do not give no ear to his provocations. Free, suggestive and international publicity – that’s what he gets in that case.

“Austrians fail to see funny side of Brüno”, “Brüno goes too far“, “Austrian sense of humour challenged by Brüno“, “Austrian press is already on the defensive”, “Provocation of the highest level”, “Brüno could be a catastrophe for tourism in Austria”, “Film is a threat to the country’s world image and economy”… That’s just some of the headlines of Austrian dailies after premiere of Brüno.

Also Kazakhstan “still suffering enormous loss of identity” after the movie Borat, was often reminded, having worries that Austria would definitly face the same situation after Brüno. But none of the Austrian dailies reminded the fact that actually Kazakhstan owns Borat. The tourism to the country after the film increased 5 times, turnover of hotels - 300 percent, and Kazakhstan was chosen to be the country you must see in 2007. Not such a big harm, is it?

But in Austria even the future ambassador in Great Britain Emil Brix expressed his deep wish that people should protest against the movie because of its inappropriate and cheap remarks about Hitler and its intentions to link Austria with the Nazi era. He even suggested watching the movie Funny Games directed by Austrian director Michael Haneke instead of Brüno for better understanding of real Austria and real Austrian culture. A little bit not logical suggestion keeping in mind the fact that Brüno has nothing to do with Austrian culture and is pure Hollywood product.

What considers issues of the Nazi era and Hitler in the movie, it is worth remembering that not long ago Austria has demonstrated enviable restraint while witnessing the exhibition The Fuhrer’s Capital of Culture. Art and National Socialism in Linz and Upper Austria in Linz, European capital of culture 2009, and the exhibition the Porno Identity in Kunsthalle Wien, where the pornographical films about sexual relationships of Nazi-gays could be observed. “There is a new generation. Nobody is Nazis here”, thinks Alfons Haider and is convincingly right.

Openly negative reaction to Brüno really makes Austria the country which is the target of Sacha Baron Cohen’s satire - conservative, vulnerable because of its past, very sensitive because of the rasistic issues and having no sense of humour.

Also Austria appears to be quite an egocentric country. In the article above mentioned jokes related with Hitler or Nazi era were just the top of the iceberg in the movie. All the other untactful jokes about Catholicism (scenes with the black baby Jesus), Jews, Israel and Palestine (“Is there a difference between Hamas and Humus?” asks Brüno) and etc. makes the Austria not the only one object to be rudely scoffed of.

But neither Vatican nor Middle East countries considered it to be urgent matter to react to some Hollywood movie. The fact that Vatican has announced its position according Angels and Demons and even Harry Poter and the Half-Blood Prince shows that the Holly See comprehended the tactics of such comics as Sacha Baron Cohen and does not wish to participate in his games. So Brüno loses even to Harry Poter. But scores for Austria.

The worst thing is that Austria after having involved itself in the game of Brüno, extends the game. Now reaction of Austria serves as a very good hook for Sacha Baron Cohen to develop Brüno’s history and memories of his “native country” in various interviews and talk shows. And dictionary of Brüno which has appeared in the official site of the movie (www.thebrunomovie.com) with such references as “train to Auschwitz – where unfashionable people belong” or “Klub Apartheid – the coolest club in Vienna” illustrates the fact how well Sacha Baron Cohen perceived the weakest link of Austria and how well he can use it for the purposes of further advertising of the film.

Actually Austria itself missed the opportunity to stay calm and gave the ace directly to the hands of Brüno. Austria did not realize in time that it is not Austria the main personage in the movie and nor even Brüno, but the society of any country with its flaws and phobias.

Also it’s a pity that all the mass media attention after the premiere was paid mainly to the confrontation between Austria and Brüno, and not to the topic which is so important in the movie – homosexuality. Brüno could give a really good tribune for the homosexuals of various countries to raise one more time the question of their rights and equality, to call the society for the open discussion. Brüno parodies well the pressure which gays get, when they are forced by society to become real men, to undergo a special treatment, to use the doubtful service of gay convert and etc.

Issue of homosexual rights becomes even more important after the fact that Ukraine has banned at all showing Brüno in the cinema theatres of the country claiming that it can “damage the moral upbringing of citizens”.

But there is also good news for the end. Not all the Austrians are frightened by Brüno. The poll for the www.austriantimes.at “Are fears the Brüno movie could harm Austria’s image justified?” found that 576  of Austrians think that Austria’s image has already been damaged by more serious issues, half less pollsters are sure that Brüno is just lots of fun and people should relax about it, and only 6 suppose that the film could really tarnish the country’s reputation.

So welcome to Austria, Brüno!

2009.07.17

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