Marietta’s Temple Kol Emeth achieved five minutes of international fame in Sacha Baron Cohen’s new Borat movie released last month. The new film, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” which, like the original Borat film in 2006, is a mock documentary of the travels of a would-be journalist from Kazakhstan played by Cohen. On Nov. 4, Variety newspaper said the film was second only to “Hamilton” as the most watched new movie this year.
During a swing through the South in the film, Borat ends up in Marietta at Temple Kol Emeth, one of the few locales in the film that gets on-screen credit. The synagogue sign out front advertises Kol Emeth’s “8 PM Shabbat service.”
Like so much of Cohen’s over-the-top satirical Borat work, the new film depends on shock and surprise to catch unsuspecting real-life characters off guard.
That presumably includes Temple Kol Emeth’s Rabbi Steven Lebow.
“I have no clue how they got in the building or what they did. I found out about it last week at the same time everybody else did!”
Lebow was in the final months of a 34-year career as the Reform congregation’s spiritual leader when the production team made a surprise visit to the synagogue Jan. 29. According to a signed rental agreement, the company paid $500 for the right to film in the Temple’s spacious sanctuary. With them was an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans from Aiken, S.C., who had initially thought she had been invited to appear in a documentary about her experiences during World War II.
Instead she confronts Cohen as Borat in full makeup and outlandishly costumed as a devilish Jew, with Pinocchio-like false nose, small black wings attached to his back and a bag of money in one hand. According to the plot, he was meeting with the survivor of the wartime atrocities to confirm that the Holocaust had actually happened. A posting he claims to have seen on Facebook says that the crimes committed against Jews had never occurred.
But in what is arguably one of the film’s most touching and tender scenes, Evans gives Borat a hug and a kiss and assures him that she experienced the Holocaust as a child. It really happened, she tells a visibly relieved Borat, who had celebrated the Holocaust as a joyous national holiday in his native country.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” she tells him.
Borat answers, “You have made me so happy,” and the scene in the Kol Emeth sanctuary ends with a second and seemingly genuine warm embrace.
“Let’s make love instead of war,” she responds, as Borat leaves to continue his quest to give away his daughter as a present to the vice president of the United States.
The popular Jewish-themed website Kveller.com described Evans, the Holocaust survivor, as “one of the standout characters of the movie.”
“If you watched the scene and thought, ‘Wow, here’s an exemplary educator and a remarkable woman,’” as one Kveller posting stated, “you would be right.”
Regrettably, we will never know what Evans thought of the film or her own role in it. She died this summer.
But just before the film’s release, her daughter Michelle Dim St. Pierre sued Cohen, Amazon and the film producers in Fulton County’s Superior Court for misleading her mother, and asked that the scene with her be removed from the film. But faced with a release her mother had signed and other evidence that her mother had been fully in on the joke with Cohen, the suit was quickly withdrawn.
Russell Smith, who represented the film’s producers and the star, was quoted in USA Today as saying Cohen was “deeply grateful to the Holocaust survivor for her ‘compassion and courage’ in the film.”
Amazon, who made the film available without charge to subscribers of Amazon Prime, was said to be highly pleased by the film’s reception. With its release on the same day as the last presidential debate and its satirical jabs at the vice president, president and his personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani, the film opened with impressive online viewing numbers.
Amazon indicated initially that “tens of millions” had watched on opening night and disputed the numbers from Samba TV, an online analytics firm, which reported that 1.6 million American households watched the “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” during the first four days of its premiere. The original Borat film brought in $262 million worldwide.