Saturday, February 02, 2013

OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009, french) and OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006, french) ****

The film world is full of James Bond spoofs, but I think I have found my new favorite.  “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” and “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” feature Jean Dujardin as a clueless, dim-witted version of the international super spy.  The films would hardly be described as subtle, but they have an edgier satire than, say, the Austin Powers films, and they contain a sly social commentary that the Powers films lack.  Dujardin plays French spy Hubert Bonnisseur de la Bath as a handsome, dashing man of the 1950’s who has no idea how offensive his casual racism and sexism appear in the 1960’s.  He cruises through life sporting a tailored suit and a smile, taking the appreciative looks from women as his due and muddling his obtuse way through each case mostly through luck.
While I immediately took these movies as James Bond spoofs, further research reveals they are, in fact, spoofs of the original OSS 117 movies from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, which were apparently serious spy flicks.  Indeed, the original OSS 117 novels, by author Jean Bruce, predate Ian Fleming’s excellent 007 novels, and the first OSS 117 movie was released in 1957, five years before “Dr. No,” the first Bond film.  Nonetheless, these movies play well as critiques of Bond, who does sometimes seem like a man about a decade out of his element.  As OSS 117 tells one hippie in “Lost in Rio,“ “Why do you want to change the world?  The world is fine.”  Indeed, these films tend to point out that the Bond films are really one, big testimony to how fine it is to roam the world as a tall, handsome, white male.  The effect is enhanced by Jean Dujardin’s similarity in appearance and style to the young Sean Connery.
The social commentary in these films is used like a subtle spice, enhancing the flavor of the dish without dominating it.  In both films, it would be possible to focus on the comedy and completely ignore these undercurrents, but they are there.  OSS 117’s complete inability to engage with the Arab Muslims in “Cairo, Nest of Spies” is reminiscent of America’s misadventures in the region.  In “Lost in Rio,” the satire is turned on France, as OSS 117 is sent to retrieve a list of French Nazi-collaborators from WWII.  His initial response to the assignment is, “What collaborators?!  All of France resisted completely.  De Gaulle said so.”  It may seem odd to an American audience for a 2009 film to reference something from so long ago, but the movie was made in France, where the wounds of occupation have perhaps not completely healed.
I have not said much about the plots of these films because, as with the Bond films, there is little that needs saying.  In the Bond films, the storyline is clearly just a vehicle for Bond to BE who he is, and the same is true for OSS 117 in these films.  The comedy is absolute gold!  OSS 117’s dashing cluelessness crashes repeatedly into the unsmiling disbelief of his female co-spies, to delightful effect.
Director Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin didn’t see much international success with these films, but you may have heard of their 2011 collaboration, a film called “The Artist.”  This silent film was a joy to watch, and won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor.  One could only hope that this success might prompt them to bring back OSS 117 to once again save the world.

4 stars out of 5

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