The team that is known today as the director and actors of The Artist of the 2011 Academy Award fame, apparently have worked together before. Michel Hazanavicius, Jean Dujardin, and Bérénice Bejo‘s black and white tribute to the silent/talkies era is merely a second homage they paid to the world of cinema. Their previous work is a french comedy that pays tribute to espionage genre. (And i apologize in advance for possible typos and misspell of names and such)
Set in 1950s, DuJardin is Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, also known as agent OSS 117. A notorious spy from French secret agent. he’s surrounded by air of superiority, ever the ladies man, and a certain degree of cockiness. his latest mission is to go to Cairo to investigate a missing cargo ship and an MIA agent and his friend, Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre). He met with Larmina El Akmar Betouche (Bérénice Bejo) a woman from Islamic background and former assistant of Jefferson. In the place known as the nest of spies, as the title suggests (english title: OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies), OSS 117 must finished his mission and bring peace to the middle east.
Hubert aka OSS 117, might look like your James Bond, tall, suave, and handsome. He struts in confidence and exudes charming persona. Well, he was all that at the first sight at least, but he’s really quite cocky (especially among women) think very highly of himself, yet fail to acknowledge his faults, resulting in various ridiculous turns of events in the most unexpected way. I think this is where Dujardin flair for comedy really stood out (and the uncontrollable, wiggly eyebrow too! O mon dieu!). For one, his cover was mainly to investigate the premise that the while acting as the owner of a wholesale chicken business. He was amused when he discovers the chicken responsiveness when the lights are on, and ended up playing with the light switch just to humor himself. He was seriously getting involved with the chicken business too, poring over their books and glad to see the business did great, how easily sidetracked is this fella?
Being in Cairo opens up the possibility of cross-cultural misunderstanding hilarity, and this guy is dim-witted if not outright stupid, self involved, and possess not an ounce of tolerance or knowledge when it came to that. Like he points out to Larmina about her stupid religion that did not allow consuming alcohol or when did not even know the current leader of the country. One of the most his callous moment was when he beats up a muezzin in a nearby mosque, who was doing adzan for Fajr prayer, because the sounds wokes him up. (for my muslim brother and sisters, please do not see this is not a spiteful act, it’s a mere unfortunate misunderstanding due to lack of cross-cultural knowledge and understanding. I found myself wondering why such things never happened to Bond when he went to a totally new, exotic countries). He also partake in shouting ‘Allahu akbar‘ when a moslem group trying to find the infidel who attacked the muezzin, this occur when he tried to infiltrate a cafe to follow up a possible clue for his mission, so much for being stealth, am i right?. (Unrelated, but everytime i heard the word ‘infidel’ i automatically remember Achmed The Dead Terrorist skit by Jeff Dunham).
True to its nature as a comedy film, OSS 117 delivers a comedy within the realm of secret agent’s life, and proven to be more successful and witty than similar film of its genre like Get Smart, Austin Powers, or Johnny English. Making a delightful mockery of the eurospy genre as well as James Bond, Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 pays an homage to espionage film genre. OSS 117 is a character created by Jean Bruce who featured him in no less than 200 novels, the first one was released 4 years prior to Ian Flemming’s first James Bond 007 novels. The novel then adapted into a film series spanning from 1950s to early 70s. Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 was an adaptation as a comedic spoof, the first film (Le Caire, nid d’Espions) was successful in French box office, that a sequel Rio ne Répond Plus was released later in 2009 where Dujardin reprised his role as Bonisseur de La Bath, aka agent 117.
As an homage to the 50s-60s spy film, the movie is very well made in general. Adapting the look of the era into the wardrobe, coloring, and set design, the movie also explore the shooting style of the era. Yes, this includes driving scene shot in a still vehicle with a fan to create faux sense of wind. The musical accompaniment gave a nod to the Bond style, yet with whimsical touch, delivered by Ludovic Bource (who also collaborates later in The Artist). The opening title is designed by Laurent Brett, adopting the style of the era as well. Inspired by the Maurice Binder style, who were known for designing opening title for movies such as Charade and James Bond’s Dr. No, which style is already perfect for the era given. Like true Bond style, the opening title introduces the character as well as the story by using symbolizations and certain objects as signifier.
The film french humour charmed me throughly :) compiled with Dujardin acting and Hazanavicius’ directing, the movie made a lovely mockery of the espionage film genre. The film was very well received in French (as proven by the box office reports) as well as in film festivals across the globe. If you watch it with an open mind as a comedy (and do not easily took offense) then i’m sure you’d be entertained as well!
OSS 117: LE CAIRE, NID D’ESPIONS (2013)
GENRE Crime, Drama, Espionage, Comedy
DIRECTOR Michel Hazanavicius | PRODUCER Éric Altmeyer, Nicolas Altmeyer | WRITER Jean-François Halin, Michel Hazanavicius | MUSIC Ludovic Bource, Kamel Ech-Cheikh | CINEMATOGRAPHER Guillaume Schiffman | EDITOR Reynald Bertrand | STUDIO Hunting Lane Films, Pines Productions, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Silverwood Films | DISTRIBUTOR Gaumont | COUNTRY France | LANGUAGE French, Arabic | RELEASE April 19, 2006 | RUNNING TIME 99 minutes | BUDGET € 14,000,000
STARRING Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Aure Atika
Watch the trailer on YouTube.
This post is a part of 2013 August’s MovieCube.