5-Word 365 #021 – OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies

Well, I made it to three weeks. I guess this counts as a miracle. Can I manage six? We shall see…

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies

The Airplane of spy movies.

In case you weren’t aware, The Artist is not director Michel Hazanavicius’ first experiment in cinematic time travel. In 2006 he went back to 1955 and returned with OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies, a recreation of the character from Jean Bruce’s novels as well as a bunch of movies made between 1956 and 1971. In the novels and earlier films, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath was an American agent of French descent working for the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA), hence the codename, but Hazanavicius has done a bit of a number on him. Here, he is a full-blooded Frenchman serving in the SDECE. The tone of this film is a complete shift as well, from serious drama to full-on parody.

OSS 117 has been dispatched to Cairo to investigate the death of his old friend and colleague Jack Jefferson, and finish Jefferson’s investigation into a missing Russian ship suspected of carrying arms. He is partnered up with Jefferson’s assistant Larmina and ostensibly takes over the dead man’s cover as director of a poultry company. Throw in an Egyptian princess, a Muslim extremist group, almost an entire atlas’ worth of other nation’s spies and more jokes than you can handle and this is the result: comedy gold.

Hazanavicius is joined in this endeavour by his The Artist stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo (or “Mrs Hazanavicius”) and they are both as much of a joy to watch here as in their new awards-botherer. Bejo is just gorgeous as the initially chilly Larmina, who eventually warms to Hubert’s charms (and somehow gets involved in a stripping chick-fight that leaves even our hero dumbfounded) but Dujardin owns the show. He is hilarious as the innocently racist, colonialist, horny spy who is simultaneously the stupidest and possibly the smartest man around. And he’s sickeningly handsome as well. The man has almost ousted Clooney in my eyes as the living embodiment of suave. I’m not kidding, this guy is going to be dampening knickers all over the world very soon. I hate him.

Ahh, Bérénice...

The period detail on display is incredible* from costumes to set design. Even the camera moves and the pacing of the edits. The use of rear-projection for the driving scenes, as well as stock footage for establishing shots is rampant but never overpowering. It works to set up the conceit but isn’t done with tongue in cheek, unlike the Austin Powers films for example, where the setting was as much a part of the gag as the gags themselves . I watched this today with my roommate Iida, and she was surprised when I told her the flick is only five years old. The fact that the mise en scene is taken so seriously just makes for a stronger frame to hang the jokes on. And what jokes they are. The hit rate in this film is insanely high. This demands a rewatch just to catch the cracks you missed the first time cos you were laughing so hard. To give an example would be an injustice; just trust me.

To explain would only spoil it.

It isn’t a problem for me, but I do realise some people don’t dig subtitles. If you are one of these unfortunates, you may need to work a bit harder to try and find an English dubbed version. The DVD I rented from Lovefilm was subtitle only. The disc was actually a bit sparse, in all honesty. The only buttons on the disc menu were Play and Scene Selection. It doesn’t even have any audio options, never mind such basic bonuses as a trailer.

But now for the really good news. As a certain verdant warrior monk once said, “there is another”. OSS 117: Lost In Rio!

By the way, I am not constantly mentioning The Artist just so that this page shows up more in Google searches for The Artist. I am not that shallow and self-serving. Well okay, maybe I am a little. The Artist.

*According to the IMDb Goofs page for this flick, a lot of the cars seen are actually from the 60s, while the film is set in ’55. I didn’t notice because I’m not a car guy. I’m a film guy, in case you hadn’t caught on yet. Even if that’s correct though, it doesn’t really bother me.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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