Targets of Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Bruno' await premiere with sense of humor

"Understanding that the film is a parody allows people to laugh," says Austrian embassy spokesman.

bruno 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
bruno 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
While the Sacha Baron Cohen film character Borat helped make Kazakhstan a household name and punch line, Cohen's new alter ego Bruno might not have the same effect for Austria. Bruno is a flamboyant, gay Austrian fashion reporter portrayed by the British comedian, the second of Cohen's creations from his HBO program Da Ali G Show to jump to the big screen, and follows in the wake of 2006's great box office success, Borat. While the Austrian media has berated him for Nazi and Hitler references in Bruno, which opens locally on Thursday, the Austrian Embassy wasn't worried about the country being portrayed in a negative manner. "If it's something which attracts people to this movie then it's fine with us," said Arad Benko, spokesman for the embassy. "Austria in terms of tourism in absolute numbers is in the top 10 in the world... There is no reason for us to be mad." In Bruno, Cohen states that he wants "to be the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler." Despite ruminations about the Austrian connection to Hitler, Benko said he is "totally cool" with the movie. "We know about the Austrian past and it's a very important topic for our daily work," he said. "Obviously here in Jerusalem, we try to do projects to bridge the gap between third generation Holocaust survivors and Austrians." Benko said it's important for viewers to understand the movie is a parody, and that distinction allows people to laugh rather than be enraged. Likewise, members of the gay community in Israel said they had no problem with Cohen's over-the-top portrayal of Bruno. "It's the same way that Borat didn't represent anyone for real," said Amit Lev, spokesman for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance. "It's a comedy show, it's a movie. We don't have to take everything so seriously. It's funny, that's it." "They should grow a sense of humor," Lev said of people deriding Cohen for his caricature of a gay man. "It's nothing but a character. It's overly exaggerated just to be funny. People have to laugh - it's only human." But not everyone is smiling about Bruno. Yossi Alpher, the co-editor of and a former Mossad agent, had a minor role in the film - although he was unaware of his initial involvement. Alpher and his BitterLemons counterpart, former Palestinian Authority Labor Minister Ghassan Khatib, appear in a scene filmed in Jerusalem with Cohen, who told them he was filming a documentary about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Alpher and Khatib, who signed releases prior to filming, were dumbfounded when Cohen questioned why there was so much hatred for "humous," confusing the food with Hamas. Alpher and Khatib, though, were not in on the joke. Following the experience, Alpher wrote in the Forward about Cohen: "He is exploiting our tragic and painful conflict in the most cynical and deceptive manner. I doubt he'll give us anything in return." When contacted for comment by The Jerusalem Post, Alpher said, "I am absolutely not interested in making any comment at all about Bruno."