Documentary film illuminates the dark side of Borat

In a Romanian village where girls are married at the age of fifteen, Carmen, an unmarried virgin at the age of seventeen, is considered a granny. She has taught herself to speak fluent Spanish by watching daytime soap operas, and dreams of living in Spain with her correspondent boyfriend. Contrary to her desires, Carmen’s father is forcing her to marry a man from the village.

As the documentary progresses, it’s revealed that this man is not only a womanizer who is obsessed with Carmen’s virginity, but he is a thief who steals money from her father’s business. In distress, Carmen runs away from home. The crew is left to watch the mental deterioration of her father, who has an emotional breakdown on camera.

At the same time that Carmen’s family turmoil is happening, their town is in an uproar. Sasha Baron Cohen’s film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, used their village of Glod as Borat’s home town. The townspeople are portrayed as uneducated and barbaric. Borat’s crew did not tell them what they were participating in, and paid them an insultingly low sum in compensation. As they couldn’t speak English, the town thought that Borat was another documentary and went along without question.

When they see Borat on TV, however, the town realizes that they were lied to. As Carmen’s family is the richest in town, they decide to sue Sasha Baron Cohen for defamation. In a series of misunderstandings and accusations, the town begins to turn on Carmen’s family. They resent them for their money, and are angry when the lawsuit does not come to fruition.

Throughout the film, Carmen realizes that her dreams of moving to Spain are unlikely to become reality, as she is so tangled in the town’s drama. In an effort to salvage what she can of her happiness, she settles for a different townsman. The documentary ends with her married with a child on the way.

The film was initially inspired when director Mercedes Stalenhoef met Carmen in a Romanian bar. She told Stalenhoef of her dreams of escaping to Spain, and the director was so enraptured by Carmen’s passion that she decided to film a documentary about her life. At first the film was going to be about Carmen’s escapist dreams and her struggle to leave Romania, but during the three years of filming in the town of Glod, their story shifted focus.

Carmen Meets Borat is a very intimate drama with bursts of dark comedy and intense human insight. The only downfall to the film is the initially slow setup and pacing. The film picks up as it progresses, particularly when the lawsuit over Borat becomes an intriguing plot point to compliment to the human relationships. Carmen Meets Borat is a riveting real-life story that certainly puts Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat to shame.

// Harrison Pratt

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