British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's new movie about a fictional gay Austrian fashion fanatic who wants to be "the most famous Austrian since Adolf Hitler" has some Austrians up in arms even before its release next month.
The lead character, Bruno, sometimes spelled Brüno, is also a TV presenter reporting for the "Voice of Austrian Youth TV."
People Today columnist Lisa Trompisch said she, for one, finds some lines of the film irritating and upsetting.
"How could a line that obviously points to the most horrifying crime that Austrian has seen in decades, namely a father [Josef Fritzl] keeping his own daughter in a dungeon for 26 years and fathering her seven children during that time, be considered humorous or funny?" she asked, citing one of Bruno's controversial lines, "I want to live the Austrian dream of finding a partner, buying a dungeon and starting a family."
Trompisch said, "I would rather call that irreverent and cynical." She also pointed out that in her heute.at (today.at) column she highlights another quote, "K is for Kampf, as in 'Mein Kampf,' ze fashion bible written by Austria's black sheep Adolf Hitler" as politically incorrect and unacceptable.
"I can't decide which is worse, the insult to Austria, or to present Hitler merely as a black sheep," she writes.
Austrian writers are reminding their readers of Cohen's last movie, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (2005), a satire in which the small town of Glod was portrayed in a backward land (Kazakhstan) of poverty and bigotry.
The film hurt a lot of feelings in Kazakhstan at the time and upset many local officials with "the derogatory way" in which their country was presented.
Suggesting that Kazakhstan has been suffering an enormous loss of identity because of Cohen's movie, ORF, the Austrian Broadcasting Corp., published an article on its Web site headlined, "Could that happen to Austria, too? Will Nazis replace our Dirndl image?"
"Could tourists be thinking of Nazis and hatred towards foreigners instead of mountains, lakes and friendly hosts wearing Dirndl dresses?" the article said, referring to the kind of traditional dress worn in southern Germany, Liechtenstein and Austria. "Should we laugh about this movie, or should we simply ignore it? Is this going to threaten our country's image?"
Will the Sacha Baron Cohen Curse Strike Austria?
Austrians needn't worry, said author Simon Anholt, a British nation-branding expert who has just published his latest book "Competitive Identity."
"Absolutely not, they should not worry, this is not how it works," he said.
Anholt, who works with international countries as a policy advisor on national identity issues, said, "This is a lot of wild talk. I know the Austrians are very sensitive about their image, but if a country's image is pretty well established, almost nothing can change it. If at all, this movie will have a short-term superficial impact which will be forgotten as soon as the reporting about it dies down.
"In the case of Kazakhstan, the situation was completely different. Nobody knew the country to begin with. It had no image to lose. In fact, Baron Cohen's film 'Borat' put the country on the map. It made people curious and tourism saw a ten-fold increase after the film. The Austrians would be best advice to ignore it, or better even, to respond with humor."
That's what Alfons Haider, Austria's most famous TV presenter, is suggesting, too.
"It's difficult to judge a film that you haven't seen but I expect it to be very funny, he said. "Sacha Baron Cohen is a wonderful actor; I'm definitely going to see the movie and I'll invite him to show him what the country is really like.
"The only thing that makes me feel strange is the idea to see Austrians marching again in Nazi uniforms and to see Hitler portrayed as entertainment. Hitler simply cannot be a comedy star. I think Cohen is walking on the edge there."
Haider, who is preparing to host a TV show on national Austrian TV ORF the same day the film is released, is thinking out loud. "I have three things in common with the lead character Bruno; I'm male, I'm gay and I'm Austrian. Maybe I'll present the show that night as Bruno."