You’ve probably seen the screengrabs leaked from Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”: Rudy Giuliani flat on a hotel bed, hands down his pants, while a young reporter (Maria Bakalova, who plays Borat’s daughter Tutar) hovers over him. Giuliani contends he was tucking his shirt, which became untucked as his microphone used during the interview was removed, and the film is nothing but a Hollywood “hit job” and a “complete fabrication.”
Whatever the former mayor was doing with his hands, his position that this was an ordinary event that Baron Cohen and his filmmaking team took out of context lacks all credibility. I’m a journalist who writes about film and TV sound professionals; I have used similar lavalier mics on interview subjects, in hotel rooms. I can confidently report that everything about that sequence — from Bakalova untucking his shirt and feeling around his midsection to remove the mic, to Giuilani remaining prone on the bed with his hands down his pants — was both highly inappropriate and anything but ordinary.
Of course, so were the circumstances leading up this moment in the film.
Journalists and their interview subjects do not repeatedly touch each other’s legs and hands throughout an interview. They do not drink scotch and retreat to the hotel suite’s darkened adjoining bedroom after the interview. Even taking into account any possible misleading editing and sound work, what plays out, including Giuliani warmly patting Bakalova’s lower back, in the hidden wide-angle bedroom camera is clear.
While the headlines might say that Sacha Baron Cohen tricked Giuliani, it would appear likely that the prankster saved “America’s Mayor” from further exposing himself on camera when he stormed into the hotel room to break things up.
While what Baron Cohen captured is embarrassing, the knowledge that Giuliani is a philanderer is hardly news – some of us lived through his Gracie Mansion bedroom dramas that played out daily on the tabloid back pages throughout his reign as mayor. So while Giuliani’s lack of a moral compass is not new information, the abysmal judgment he showed in putting himself in a highly compromised situation is extremely newsworthy. Giuliani is hardly the first conservative to be fooled into an interview by Baron Cohen, but the bizarre setup and slapstick way he was lured into the bedroom is damning.
In the film, Bakalova plays a 15-year-old who sneaks into the USA to aid her father in a bizarre plan to “gift” something to someone (anyone) close to President Trump as a way to endear the Kazakh people to him. By the time Borat and Tutar zero in on Giuliani as a mark, the pair have had a falling out and Tutar has taken on a new guise: pretending to be a foreign journalist with a thick accent who is extremely inexperienced, nervous, and infatuated with Giuliani.
It’s an intentionally over-the-top comedic performance, and one that becomes pure slapstick when Baron Cohen – disguised as her sound man – comes barging into the room. Playing the buffoon, Baron Cohen interrupts the interview, disparages Bakalova (whom Giuliani gallantly defends), and tries to end the interview until he is pushed out the door, in sitcom-like fashion, by his daughter.
It should be noted that the over-the-top the antics of this scene could, in part, have been amped up by misleading editing and sound work. For example, it is unclear in re-watching the scene if Baron Cohen actually whispered to Giuliani, “She’d make a very nagging wife,” or that the line (delivered in a single shot of Baron Cohen), “If I were you I’d stick to marrying your cousins” (a clear reference to Giuliani’s first marriage to his cousin) was something Giuliani actually heard (though he does react with shock to something Borat said). These lines are narratively important to both the storyline and Borat’s motivation as the film reaches its third-act climax, and could have been added through creative editing and sound.
Regardless, the buffoonery that does happen in frame with Giuliani should have set off a flashing red siren for any high-profile public figure, but not the former mayor, who just drinks his scotch, smiles, and proceeds with the interview before retiring to the darkened bedroom with Bakalova. Giuliani’s complete lack of situational awareness put him in a compromised situation that was possibly beyond anything that even Baron Cohen himself could have imagined.
All of this would be comical, mixed with a dollop of schadenfreude, if it wasn’t for the fact that Giuliani’s judgment, and fear that he has been compromised by foreign entities, is at the very heart of a contentious news cycle 12 days before an election. Perhaps even more damning than Giuliani’s behavior with Bakalova is that it was even allowed to happen in the first place. Whatever vetting process (if any) the former mayor has in place somehow granted access to a fake journalist at a fake news outlet that literally does not exist. Anyone, it seems, can get close to Giuliani.
As the personal lawyer of Trump, Giuliani has reportedly spent many booze-fueled days and nights in hotels and restaurants with a cast of foreign-born characters and a documentary crew every bit as farfetched as you’d find in a Borat film, as he traveled abroad to dig up dirt on the Bidens and aide the political interests of his client. So convinced of Giuliani’s counsel, President Trump got himself impeached trying to strong-arm Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into publicly announcing an investigation into Trump’s likely Democratic challenger for re-election.
After impeachment, Trump’s top aides were convinced Giuliani’s counsel was an existential threat to his presidency and did all they could to keep him at arms distance; meanwhile, intelligence services warned the President in the Oval Office that Giuliani “was being used to feed Russian misinformation to the president.” Major news outlets, including Fox News, rejected Giuliani’s latest round of Biden dirt because it was impossible to verify.
And yet, only two weeks before an election, 100 segments and an estimated 40 percent of the air time on Fox News was dedicated to a Hunter Biden laptop story that originated with (and continues to be advanced by) Giuliani, who contends our likely next president (if the polls hold) is a criminal who belongs in jail.
Accusations of onanism make good copy, but it distracts from a much larger truth. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” captured Giuliani in a private, un-vetted, scotch-filled meeting at a critical moment in our country’s history. And remarkably, 11 days before the election, we have evidence of his inability to read the room, to suss out credible sources, and his capacity to be compromised by foreign entities. It’s streaming on Amazon for all to see.