The Dictator-A Film Review by Gilad Atzmon
On the face of it, Baron Cohen’s The Dictator is a horrid film. It is vulgar, it isn’t funny and if it has five good jokes in it, they appear in the two minute official trailer. In short, save your time and money – unless of course, you are interested in Jewish identity politics and neurosis.
Similar to Cohen’s previous work, The Dictator is, once again, a glimpse into Cohen’s own tribal morbidity. After all, the person and the spirit behind this embarrassing comedy is a proud self-loving character who never misses an opportunity to express his intimate affinity to his people, their unique comic talent and their beloved Jewish state. But let’s face it, Cohen isn’t alone, after all, he has created The Dictator together with a Hollywood studio. So, it’s reasonable to say that what we see here is just one more Hollywood-orchestrated effort to vilify the Arab, the Muslim and the Orient.
I guess that Arab rulers, regimes and politics are an ideal subject for a satirical take, still, one may wonder what exactly does Sacha Baron Cohen know about the Arab World? As far as the film can tell, not much. Instead, Cohen projects his own Zionist and tribal symptoms onto the people of Arabia and their leaders.
In the film, Cohen plays General Hafez Aladeen, the Arab ruler of the oil-rich North African rogue state Wadiya. On the face of it, he is the satirical version of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, but in reality, Aladeen’s actions are no less than a vast amplification of the crimes committed by Israel and its war criminals such as Shimon Peres, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni.
When Baron Cohen ridicules the Arab Dictators who obsessively seek WMD and nuclear weapons he should bear in mind that it is actually his beloved Jewish state that has, since the 1950s, been pushing the entire region into a nuclear race. It is his Israeli brothers and sisters who express every too often their lethal enthusiasm to destroy Iran and other regional entities. When Baron Cohen mocks the Arab rulers who murder their opponents and kill kids, women and elders, he once again projects Israeli symptoms because it is actually the Jewish state that so often engages in systematic mass murder and war crimes on a colossal scale. Someone should remind Cohen that the pictures of white phosphorus pouring over UN shelters were taken in Gaza, not in Saddam’s Baghdad, Homs (Sirya) or imaginary Wadiya. When Sacha Baron Cohen presents the Arab leader as a savage rapist he may want to remind himself that Moshe Katzav, who was, until recently, the President of the Jewish State is now locked behind bars after being sentenced for rape. It is therefore far from coincidence that when Cohen attempts to bond with his protagonist Dictator Aladeen, he actually speaks in his mother tongue, Hebrew. Cohen speaks Hebrew because Aladeen is not an Arab dictator, he is actually an Israeli patriot like Cohen himself.
But let’s try to transcend ourselves beyond Baron Cohen’s projections and confess: as much as Cohen’s new film is lame, Cohen, himself is far from being a fool. In fact, he has managed to bring to light a few interesting and astute political insights. For example, towards the end of the film Dictator Aladeen produces a remarkable speech at the UN in favour of dictatorship. In front of the delegations, Aladeen draws a pretty profound list of unintended parallels between the USA and dictatorship. Delivering a sharp political criticism by means of comedy deserves respect.
Another provocative insight is delivered through the character of Zoey (Anna Farris), a devout feminist and a human right activist. Zoey runs a multi-ethnic eco-friendly grocery store in Brooklyn. She is the ultimate solidarity campaigner and this time she rallies against Aladeen and his regime. While Zoey invades the street demonstrating against Aladeen’s brutality, Aladeen’s Chief of Staff Tamir (Ben Kingsley) plots against his ruler inside the UN building. He sells out his country’s assets to oil tycoons and world leaders. The cinematic meaning of it all is clear- the bond between the so-called Left and the imperial powers has been established. Zoey, the lefty progressive seems to work towards the exact same goal as the leading corrupted capitalist expansionist forces. They all want to bring the Aladeen regime to an end. I guess that many of those who monitor solidarity activism and discourse would agree with Cohen’s readings. After all, it was feminists and women’s rights groups that, in the 1990s, prepared the ground for the War against Terror and the invasion of Afghanistan. The Left was also very reluctant to support the democratically elected Hamas. I guess that a Leftist, thrown into a room together with Dershowitz and Bin Laden, would probably attempt to bond first with Dershowitz.
But Zoey isn’t just a progressive solidarity and human right activists. As the plot progresses, Aladeen and Zoey fall for each other. Towards the end of the film ‘solidarity activist’ Zoey and Dictator Aladeen get married. This is when Dictator Aladeen and the rest of us find out that Zoey is actually a Jew. From a cinematic perspective, the Jew, the human right campaigner and the solidarity activist leader are all one. This amusing reading is unfortunately consistent with the reality of the solidarity movement. Those who monitor Jewish Left activism detect a relentless effort among some Jewish campaigners to tribally hijack and even Zionize the discourse of solidarity, human rights and marginal politics. However, from a Judaic perspective, Zoey, the new wife of Dictator Aladeen is nothing short of an incarnation of Biblical Queen Esther. Like Esther, Zoey has managed to infiltrate into the corridors of a lucrative foreign power.
I guess that with AIPAC controlling American foreign policy and 80% of Tory MPs being CFI (Conservative Friends of Israel) members, a Jewish queen of a fictional Wadiya is almost exotic.
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Previous reviews of Baron Cohen's films:
Some Things To Keep In Mind While Watching Borat by Gilad Atzmon