Comedy ‘dictator’ crashes Cannes on a camel
Sacha Baron Cohen has a talent for causing a stir. Now, the comic actor has stolen the show at Cannes Film Festival in the character of ridiculous dictator ‘Admiral General Aladeen.’
Cannes Film Festival: highbrow cinema, celebrity glamour, chattering critics... and a lunatic genocidal dictator falling off a camel.
Yes, Sacha Baron Cohen has done it again. In February, the comic’s new character Admiral General Aladeen caused havoc at the Oscars by pouring a vat of ‘Kim Jong-il’s ashes’ over a reporter. Now he has grabbed the spotlight at another of the film industry’s big nights.
The city of Cannes in southern France is home to the grandest and most influential film festival in the world. At this time of year, its main street is usually thronging with actors, directors and assorted grandees of show business.
But yesterday this glitzy ‘promenade’ was invaded by a flamboyantly-dressed man on a camel. While his miniskirted bodyguards pointed their rifles at approaching journalists, the eccentric imposter attempted to feed coffee to his camel. The camel’s name, incidentally, was Osama.
This irreverent invader was Sacha Baron Cohen, scoring yet another publicity coup for his new film. The Dictator is a wildly inappropriate romp in which Aladeen, the tyrant of an imaginary North African country, is kidnapped during a trip to America – with chaotic consequences. His character combines the madder aspects of some of the most murderous rulers of recent times: people like Muammar Gaddafi, Idi Amin and Kim Jong-il.
Baron Cohen is not the first to play a vicious and ridiculous tyrant for laughs. Kim Jong-il was a character in the controversial Team America film, from the creators of South Park; even Adolf Hitler has been used repeatedly as a comedy villain, by filmmakers from Charlie Chaplin to Mel Brooks.
The Dictator has had a mixed reception from critics. Some are amused, while others lament the movie’s lack of taste. And the endless publicity stunts have won as many enemies as admirers.
Not that this will bother Sacha Baron Cohen. He has made a career of courting controversy, whether impersonating a gay fashion designer, a wannabe rapper or an anti-Semitic traveller from Kazakhstan. His character, Borat, was so offensive to the Central Asian country that the government tried to sue.
Gaddafin’ a laugh
‘We are not amused,’ say many critics. Laughing at torture, prejudice and brutal dictatorships is just callous. If we were serious about ending these evils, they say, we would start by taking them seriously.
Taking dictators seriously, Sacha Baron Cohen’s fans say, is what gets them into power in the first place. The most powerful weapon against tyrants and totalitarian regimes is not outrage, but ridicule.
- Should dictators be off limits for comedy?
- Is ‘joking about racism’ just an excuse for being racist?
- Plan a good publicity stunt for a film of your choice.
- In groups, create a short piece of drama that makes fun of someone in the news.
Some People Say...
“To dictators, a joke is as deadly as a bullet.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why are people getting upset about a joke?
- Not all jokes are harmless. Until the 19th Century, one of the most popular comic entertainments was the so called ‘minstrel show’, in which white actors would smear themselves in dark paint and act out racist routines. These days, of course, this would be greeted with almost universal condemnation. But we still tell jokes that some people find offensive – where the line should be drawn is a very fraught question.
- So is everybody who enjoysBorat racist?
- No. Some people are very uncomfortable with Sacha Baron Cohen’s humour. But his defenders say that his real victims are not gays or Kazakhstanis, but lazy stereotypes and people who hold them.
- Sacha Baron Cohen
- The comic almost never appears out of character, so relatively little is known about his personality. But we do know his background, and judging only by his performances it is a surprise: he is from a wealthy Jewish family and was educated at Cambridge.
- Muammar Gaddafi
- Colonel Gaddafi, who terrorised the citizens of Libya for over forty years, had some bizarre eccentricities. On foreign trips, he often brought an enormous tent, and a legion of young female bodyguards. He was obsessed with US defence secretary Condoleezza Rice, who he once gave a locket with his picture in.
- Idi Amin
- Idi Amin was one of Africa’s bloodiest ever rulers. Some of his eccentricities were far too gruesome to be funny: he reportedly ate his victims, or fed them to crocodiles. But he also claimed to be the King of Scotland, and sent love letters to Elizabeth II.
- Kim Jong-il
- The former North Korean dictator made some astonishing claims. According to his own propaganda, he invented the hamburger and was the world’s greatest golfer, having once scored eight holes-in-one in a single round.