OSS117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin), codename OSS117, is a French secret agent who, as we see in the opening sequence, has been fighting the enemies of France since the Second World War.  In 1955 OSS 117 is sent to Cairo to investigate the disappearance (and presumed murder) of his old partner Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre).  Cairo is, as the title suggests, awash in intrigue, and soon OSS117 is tangling with Royalist and fundamentalist intrigue, as Nazis and Soviet and English spies.

OSS117 is a long running French spy series which began in 1949 (beating Ian Fleming’s 007 to the punch by four years), with over 200 novels published.  During the  Eurospy film boom eight OSS117 films were made.  In 2006 director Michel Hazanavicius (like star Dujardin, better known for last year’s Oscar-winning silent film The Artist) revived the character for this spoof film, which is a spot on parody of European spy films, as well as French arrogance when confronted with other cultures.  Although it can get quite silly, it avoids the broad characters with “funny” mannerisms, catch phrases and characteristics that plagued Mike Meyers Austin Powers series.  This should prevent it from feeling quite so dated and played out as that series does now; and of course it helps that, although not completely devoid of jokes based on current concerns, it’s not as full of anachronisms (or set in the current day) as Meyers’ series was.  Dujardin is perfectly cast as the lead, alternating between dead on imitations of Sean Connery’s mannerisms and a broad, cheesy grin that practically demands him to be cast as Douglas Fairbanks.  I’ve yet to see The Artist myself, but if Hazanavicius is as good at reproducing the feel of earlier film eras there as he is here, I should be in for a treat when I finally get around to it.

OSS 117:  Cairo, Nest of Spies is worth a look for all fans of 1960s spy films, especially the earliest Sean Connery Bond films.

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2 comments on “OSS117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

  1. Keeley says:

    So I went and watched this on Netflix… It was ok; the soundtrack (lots of Pink Panther echoes) and dopplegangers of Peter Lorre and Viggo Mortensen were particularly amusing. I would disagree on the anachronism front with your review. The imam and all the fist-pumping revolutionaries felt a lot more like a 70’s or later film, unless I’m missing something by not having watched a lot of _French_ 60’s spy movies. You’re right that Dujardin does a great Connery impression!

    • professormortis says:

      The Muslim Brotherhood started operating in Egypt in 1928 and engaged in violence until they renounced it in the 1970s. I’m not sure the style is correct for the 1950s *film*, or if they style of the radicals in the film matches how the Brotherhood was in the 50s, but the organization was certainly in operation at that time and were very much against the secular government. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12313405

      I am not sure how to put it, but what I was trying to get across is that Austin Powers feels less like an actual spy movie of its era than this one did (though it’s more 1960s Bond than actual 1950s spy movies). Powers feels like a very long Saturday Night Live sketch, while this feels more like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera, both a spoof and a functional recreation of the genre it’s spoofing. Of course, the first Austin Powers film, at least, was actually set in the present day, making it a very different kind of comedy from this one. I was disappointed with the second installment of OSS117; I’m hard pressed to explain why I didn’t like it as much as this one, but it definitely lost some of that feeling of verisimilitude that this one had.

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