Of all the unwitting participants duped into believing they were appearing in the supposed nonfiction pic that became “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” perhaps none have as sad a tale to tell as the Romanian townspeople who played Borat’s fellow villagers and are at the center of the thought-provoking docu “Carmen Meets Borat.” Yet by focusing as much — if not more — on her 17-year-old subject’s coming of age as on the chaotic fallout of the original “Borat” shooting, vet documaker Mercedes Stalenhoef has created a resonant treatise on ambition and exploitation that will meet with praise at fests, on the tube and in ancillary.
The dirt-poor Romanian village of Glod is home to Ionela Carmen Ciorobea, who works as barmaid and clerk at the supermarket-cum-tavern owned and operated by her mother and father. Her dad is sincere in his desire to improve village life, even in the face of derision from some factions. Stalenhoef met Carmen while traveling for pleasure, prior to Fox’s “Borat” shoot, and was taken enough with the teenager’s predicament and dreams of going to Spain to begin planning a docu on her immediately following the vacation.
Though the helmer wasn’t around when Carmen’s grandfather was used as “the town mechanic and abortionist” in the first reel of “Borat,” she captures the family’s outrage at the finished film. Things become downright embarrassing when a German lawyer shows up with controversial ambulance chaser Ed Fagan in tow. As they down shots around the kitchen table, Fagan promises to fly them all to Los Angeles to confront “Borat” star Sacha Baron Cohen and sue him for millions of dollars.
What eventually transpires is that Carmen’s dad and grandfather and Glod’s mayor are pushed by Fagan into Fox’s London offices, where they are summarily dismissed at the reception desk.
Meanwhile, back in Romania, Carmen finally succumbs to the sweet talk of suitor Cristi, only to discover he’s been pilfering from the cash register. Though her father is crushed by circumstances and suspected by the townspeople of hoarding the spoils, things end on a cautious, high note.
Stalenhoef’s relaxed approach to her subjects and their heartbreakingly honest naivete make for absorbing, provocative stuff, and the pic’s tech package is tidy. Oddly enough, both Cohen and Fagan are thanked in the closing credits. Subsequently, the lawsuit was dismissed for being, no kidding, “too vague.”