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Brüno causes a stir

Last update - Thursday, July 23, 2009, 12:56 By Charlie Johnson

Despite dominating box offices around the world on its opening weekend, no one has been queuing up to see Brüno in the Ukraine – after the eastern European country banned the film, citing it as “immoral”.

Nine of the 14 members of the Ukranian Ministry of Culture’s film commission voted to enact the nationwide ban. In a letter to the film’s Ukrainian distributor, Sinergia, the commission concluded that Brüno contains “sadistic manifestations which could damage the morality of citizens”.
Brüno is the third film based on characters created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, following 2002’s Ali G Indahouse and 2006’s worldwide smash hit mockumentary Borat.
Cohen portrays the titular character, a flamboyantly gay fashion reporter from Austria, who leaves Europe for the United States to become a celebrity. Along the way, he encounters a variety of people and celebrities, most of whom he manages to offend or anger with his overt personality. 
The film, like Borat, is intended to expose the prejudices and hidden feelings of Brüno’s interview subjects. But many have decried it as going to far for its own good. 
Brüno contains several scenes depicting close-ups of male genitalia and graphic sex acts.  Cohen’s character also boasts that he wants to be the most famous Austrian since Adolf Hitler, and makes light of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian who imprisoned and raped his daughter for 24 years.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture’s letter stated that Brüno contains “artistically unjustified exhibition of sexual organs and sexual relations, homosexual acts in a blatantly graphic form, obscene language, sadism and anti-social behaviour.” 
The letter added: “[The film] shows homosexual acts and homosexual perversions in an explicitly realistic manner.”
Max Ursu, a Ukrainian living in Ireland, is holding off judgment until he sees the film for himself – an option that his fellow Ukrainians do not have.
“I’d have to see the film before I tell whether it’s a good thing or not,” says Ursu. “But I do intend to see it, though. I do want to know why the decision was made. I guess you can’t tell that much about the movie until you see it.”
Outside of Ukraine, the film has also stirred controversy in Austria, home of the fictional Brüno character. While the country’s newly appointed ambassador to Britain has called for a boycott on the film, Austria itself has stopped far short of banning it outright.
“Without having seen the film, I cannot comment on the specifics, but what determines the quality of a film should be left up, ultimately, to the individual,” said Karin Fichtinger of the Austrian Embassy in Ireland. The Ukrainian Em-bassy in Ireland was unreachable for comment.
Some gay activists have also called for a similar boycott of the film, claiming that it simply reinforces stereotypes without much artistic or satirical value. But others in the gay community have flocked to see the film.
“I actually have not heard one bad thing about Brüno from a gay person,” said Brian Finnegan of Gay Community News. “I don’t think it’s extremely successful at educating people about homophobia because it is so extreme, but it’s not insidious. 
“The insidious stereotype are the ones that are put out by laws like the Civil Partnership Bill which treat gay couples unequally, not the Brüno character.”
Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 film Borat, which featured an anti-Semitic Kazakhstani journalist, created a similar controversy and was banned in Kazakhstan and close ally Russia. Neither country has enacted a ban on Brüno.

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