CANNES, France (Reuters) - It took no less than a live camel strolling the promenade in Cannes to steal the show on the film festival’s opening day, a feat that comedian Sacha Baron Cohen pulled off with chutzpah on Wednesday.
The British satirist, star of “Borat” and “Bruno,” used the novel public relations stunt to draw attention to the U.S. opening of his new film “The Dictator,” in which he plays fictitious despot General Aladeen of the made-up North African country Wadiya.
As much of the international press was ensconced in a dark theatre to watch the debut film of the festival, Baron Cohen grabbed the attention with a sideshow just a few blocks away.
Dressed as Aladeen, the comedian emerged from the entrance of a prestigious beachside hotel flanked by two leggy brunettes wearing military berets and carrying fake Kalashnikovs.
“Don’t shoot, please!” joked one photographer in the throng surrounding the actor, who remains in character for his publicity appearances and was dressed in an orange and green polo uniform, complete with boots, riding crop and military insignia.
“Relax, no pressure,” Baron Cohen told the jostling crowd of photographers, reporters and overwhelmed police struggling to keep order. “I’m a dictator! I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
But a mere dictator cannot necessarily compete with the flurry of stars, Hollywood deal-makers and others who populate Cannes during the festival. Enter Aladeen’s camel, whose name according to a license plate on its bridle, is Wadiya 1.
His flashy sunglasses glinting in the sun and beads of sweat appearing above his fake heavy beard, Baron Cohen fell backwards as he tried to mount the camel, showing off his talent for physical comedy.
But the show did not stop there, as the camel needed a walk, and the swanky shops of the boulevard awaited.
“Let’s go shopping!” Baron Cohen called out before entering a Ralph Lauren boutique and emerging with a bright orange scarf for the dictator’s dromedary.
“The Dictator,” which the actor co-wrote and produced, was filmed as the popular uprisings of the Arab spring occurred throughout the Middle East.
Aladeen — an insecure and idiotic leader who considers the U.N. Commission on Human Rights “hilarious” — is loosely modeled on now-deceased strongmen Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.
Although “Borat” was widely acclaimed by critics for its subtle mix of brash humor, over-the-top humor and thought-provoking voyeurism, reviews for “The Dictator” have been mixed.
The movie scores a respectable 60.5 percent positive rating at moviereviewintelligence.com, a website that aggregates critical reaction.
Reporting By Alexandria Sage, editing by Paul Casciato