OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES and OSS 117: LOST IN RIO


The movies that made director Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin household names in the U.S. (well, at least to those who can even pronounce Michel’s last name). Not as loony as Austin Powers, but far superior to Get Smart (Cairo came out the same year and put the Steve Carel movie to shame), the films are based on characters from a series of novels (series?, 254 in all; first by Jean Bruce, then his wife after his death, then Bruce’s daughter and her husband), the first of which was published in 1949, four years before James Bond ordered his first martini. The books are serious potboilers; but the two Hazanavicius films are pure satire, recasting the hero, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, as a xenophobic, racist, misogynistic chauvinist (though still a good agent). In the first, after an agent, and best friend of Bath, disappears, Bath is sent to Cairo in order to find out what happened and bring peace to the Middle East; after a series of complicated plot turns that ultimately make little sense, he thinks he does both. In the sequel, he is sent to Rio to find a Nazi who has a microfilm list of French collaborators (set up in a very, very funny scene between Bath and his boss—funny because DeGaulle, who is now president of France, has basically declared there was no such thing as a Nazi collaborator, but I guess the Nazi didn’t get the message). Both OSS movies are tons of fun and wonderful parodies of espionage films of the fifties and sixties. Dujardin holds everything together, even when the plot is falling apart. He’s an incredibly handsome actor, but he also has a nose that is slightly too large and a smile that could help ships trying to avoid the rocks during a fog bound night; because of this he is the perfect actor to play both a handsome character and a parody of a handsome character (as he does in The Artist). At one point in Cairo he chases after a suspect through some backstreets, stopping for a Bondian trailer pose at every turn, until he finds himself going in circles and running out of breath. Rio takes the basic comedy of Cairo and goes a bit farther; Bath is utterly clueless in how he treats women and doesn’t understand why people get upset when he stereotypes Jews. Hazanavicius also does some wonderful things with split screens here, at one point filling the audience’s view with so many squares it looks like the scene in The Fly where the woman’s screams is reflected in the insect’s many eyes. The sets and costumes have the perfect coolness of their periods (but since it’s the sixties, that means middle class blandness). Hazanavicius loves Hitchcock and in Rio he channels both North by Northwest and Vertigo (take that Kim Novak; just live with it) with a breathtaking finale atop the statue Christ the Redeemer that looks out from Corcovado. For a different sort of beautiful landmark, Cairo has Berenice Bejo (Hazanavicius’ wife and Dujardin’s co-star in The Artist) as the love interest. In Rio it’s Louise Manot as the Massad member who wants to bring the Nazi to justice in Israel—a goal Bath doesn’t fully understand.

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