Page last updated at 09:54 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 10:54 UK

Nervy Austria ready to laugh at Bruno

By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Vienna

"Provocation at the highest level," was the way one Austrian headline described Bruno.

The advent of Sacha Baron Cohen's latest creation, Bruno, a gay Eurotrash fashionista who just happens to come from Austria, is being met with a mixture of trepidation and wry amusement here.

Sacha Baron Cohen
Some Austrians seem to be relishing the prospect of Bruno-fuelled outrage

Unlike the Kazakh authorities, many Austrians laughed heartily at Mr Baron Cohen's last film, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan".

But will they laugh as hard at Bruno? The character, according to a recent article on the ORF website, "doesn't necessarily shed the best light on Austria".

The media here have faithfully recorded Bruno's exploits since the start of filming.

It may partly be out of concern for Austria's image, already battered by the trial earlier this year of Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter and their children in a cellar.

Lisa Trompisch, a columnist on heute.at, was incensed by a recent interview with Bruno in the fashion magazine Marie Claire, in which he described Hitler as this country's "black sheep".

'Not funny'

"Ve're all proud of our country und are raised to try and achieve ze Austrian dream - find a job, get a dungeon und raise a family in it," Bruno went on.

"No it's not funny," she wrote.

Alfons Haider

Sacha Baron Cohen is showing me my hidden Bruno
Alfons Haider, a gay TV presenter seen as a possible model for Bruno

"It is hard to know which is worse: the insult to Austria," or that Hitler was "merely a black sheep".

But other Austrians seem to be secretly relishing the prospect of Bruno-fuelled outrage.

There's been speculation in the British and the Austrian papers that Bruno is based on a real person, Alfons Haider, one of Austria's most well-known television presenters.

But Mr Haider, who hosts the Austrian version of Strictly Come Dancing, told me that there were only two similarities between him and Bruno: "I'm Austrian and I'm openly gay."

Mr Haider thinks that the Austrian sense of humour may be severely challenged by Bruno and his ambition to be the "most famous Austrian star since Hitler".

"The gay stuff is probably OK but the Nazi stuff - I'm not sure that people would like that," he said. "I personally don't like it that my country is always shown as a fascist, right-wing Nazi country. We have problems with the right wing as all European countries do, but it is not as bad as they show. This is a democracy."

But when I asked him if he was upset at being linked to Bruno, he smiled delightedly. "It's wonderful!"

Sacha Baron Cohen "is showing me my hidden Bruno" he said. "The guy is a great comedian."

Turning to the camera, a la Bruno, he blew a kiss. "This is the real Bruno from Austria!" he said.

An honour?

On a sunny day in one of Vienna's trendiest squares, it was hard to find anyone who was really upset at the prospect of the film.

Georg, a musician, said he was looking forward to it. "I think the Austrians have enough self-esteem to take it the way it is supposed to be. We're used to people making fun of us."

And he wasn't bothered by any possible Nazi references. "We are used to that too. German and Austrian actors can only make it in Hollywood if they play Nazis so what's the big deal?"

Sitting on a marble bench, 22-year-old Katherine said that although she hadn't liked Borat, she had a sneaking suspicion that Austrians might actually come to feel proud of Bruno.

"Every time something comes from Austria everyone says - oh it is from Austria, oh it was made in Austria. I don't think it will be a problem," she said.

Florian, a bartender, said Borat means that people know what to expect. "I wouldn't say it is an honour that he is playing an Austrian," he said, "but it is funny."



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