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'Bruno' scenes debut at South by Southwest

March 16, 2009 |  1:11 pm

Bruno_sbc_i0v3yzkf_400 Sacha Baron Cohen made a brief appearance, albeit on screen in a pre-taped segment, at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, on Sunday night. Speaking in an exaggerated, upper-crust British accent, Baron was shown sitting in front of an editing bay as he welcomed the audience to view three scenes from “Bruno,” the highly anticipated follow-up to the comedian’s surprise smash, “Borat.”

There were no credits for the Universal Pictures film apart from a title card and, considering the IMDb page for the film does not name a director, it seems this will be much more the singular vision of Cohen and less a work of collaboration, as on “Borat,” which was directed by veteran Larry Charles and also credited to three additional writers. From the scenes that were screened, “Bruno” is shot in the same style as “Borat,” mixing real people into situations designed to get awkward interactions and maximum comedic response. The footage was outrageous and funny but seemed somehow more constructed than “Borat” and less genuinely anarchic.

In his introduction, Cohen explained that the character of Bruno is a recently disgraced Austrian fashion television host determined to rebuild his image and become “the biggest Austrian celebrity since Hitler.” Wanting, naturally, to adopt an African baby and sell images for a celebrity-baby photo spread, the first scene showed the casting sessions for a suitable baby. Cohen, looking lean and affecting a fey, lisping Germanic accent with his hair in a dramatically frosted sweep of bangs, asks a series of eager stage parents what would be acceptable for their baby to go through in a photo shoot. Bees, falling from a building, loud noises, rapid acceleration, liposuction, being dressed as a Nazi or hung from a cross like Jesus? No matter the situation, the answer is always “yes.” As Bruno explains to one mother, “Ich bin pushing the limit.”

In the second scene, Cohen explained in a second taped introduction, Bruno was to go on a television talk show in Texas, which he described in a way unprintable here. Appearing before a mostly African American audience, Bruno is part of a segment on single parents. After upsetting the crowd with his announcement that he was looking for “Mr. Right,” he wheels out an African American infant in a pimped-out stroller complete with laptop computer and bedecked in little leather pants and a sleeveless belly T that read “gayby.” Bruno told the audience he is calling the baby by the “traditional African name” of O.J. After showing off pictures of he and the baby with some adult male friends in a hot tub and other scenarios, a woman portrayed as being from Child Protective Services wheeled the baby away.

For the third segment, Cohen explained in another introduction, Bruno reinvents himself as “Straight Dave,” the most heterosexual man in the world. Dave hosts an ultimate fighting event billed as “man slammin’ action.” The rowdy drunken crowd hoots with delight as Dave, dressed in camouflage with a baroque handlebar mustache and mutton-chop sideburns, rips the dresses off a pair of buxom ring attendants. He soon is wrestling a slight-looking blond man and the crowd seems into the fight until Elton John music starts to pump through the room and the two men begin to kiss and remove their clothes. Soon they are drenched in thrown bottles, beer cups and at least one chair is thrown.

While Sunday night’s screening -- essentially a glorified media event that in and of itself speaks to the growing perception of the importance of the SXSW festival -- was funny and surprising, it did not pack quite the same punch as one’s first exposure to “Borat.” So far, these “Bruno” scenes lacked the truly subversive bite that made “Borat” both outrageous and thoughtful, playing it safe rather than really pushing the limit.

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: Sacha Baron Cohen as Bruno. Credit: Todd Shulman / HBO