OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006)

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) – So I don’t know if you all got this from my review, my best of 2011 list, or my Oscar article but I really enjoyed the hell out of The Artist. The loving tribute to and recreation of a bygone style of film-making really just got me in the right way. It turns out that Academy Award-winning director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin are not new to the retro genre pastiche. OSS 117 is a French superspy character created back in the late 1940s (predating James Bond) an made into a series of films in the 1950s and 60s. I’ve never seen them but they’re pretty straightforward 1950s/60s spy films. Hazanavicius has a bit more comedic take on the property…

The movie is set in 1955 and has the exact look of a film produced in that time. Jean Dujardin play OSS 117, here presented as a somewhat dim operative who flashes his million-dollar smile around as he stumbles from clue to clue all the whole remaining clueless. He’s sent to Cairo which is described many times as the titular “nest of spies.” When told he need to ensure peace in the Middle East he just smiles and says “no problem.” He investigates the death of his friend and fellow agent Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre) while having homoerotic flashbacks to the two of them playing various sports on the beach and laughing like everything is hilarious. Jack’s former Egyptian secretary Larmina (Bérénice Bejo) serves as his guide/potential love interest. Also in the mix is the Princess (Aure Atika), the niece of the deposed king. OSS 117 goes about investigating things while demonstrating outrageous cultural insensitivity and a general cluelessness.

It is pretty damn funny. The art of the spoof film seems largely lost in the United States. Now all we get is a bunch of idiotic dreck with titles of the “[Genre] Movie” formula that seems to think a reference in the same thing as a joke. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies understand spoof-ery much better. It takes the usual tropes of the genre and escalates them to an absurd degree, but never without wit. You’ve seen the scene in a million spy movies where James Bond or whoever arrives at the hotel, the camera pans and you see a shifty-looking guy on the phone saying something like “he’s just arrived.” Well, there’s a character who does just that in this movie and he does it pretty much whenever OSS 117 arrives ANYWHERE, somehow defying logic with how he could have possibly beat the superspy to the destination. It’s all very silly and Dujardin’s immense comedic talents help sell every absurd second of it. With an Oscar on his shelf, I’d be willing to bet that Michel Hazanavicius is going to move beyond retro genre pastiche films, but honestly if he spent the rest of his career doing nothing but going through film history and putting his own spin on the films of any given period I’d be satisfied. The Artist was no fluke. This guy is a man to watch.

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