OSS117: Cairo, Nest of Spiesrecommended viewing

Deeply funny
Michel Hazanavicius
Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Aure Atika, Phillippe Lefebvre
The Setup: 
French James Bond Parody… but it ain’t Goldmember.

I remember hearing about this movie when it was out, noting its good reviews, but nice as its supposed to be, a James Bond parody, no matter how good, necessarily doesn’t take the higher priority in terms of what you need to get to at the theater. But I was glad I remembered it on video, because it sure did show me a good time.

We open with a black-and-white prologue in a Nazi plane flying out of Berlin in 1945. There seems to be some tension between two Nazi agents, which turns out to be because one of them is a French spy. The pilot also is a French spy, and they get the crucial blueprints before kicking the Nazi off. They then laugh far longer than they should, and fly off into the night. The pilot, by the way, was OSS117.

We then have a very fun animated credits sequence with colorful 60s-style designs and 60s-style music. We rejoin OSS117 [his name apparently is Hubert… we’ll just call him 117] in Rome in the 60s. He has a beautiful woman in bed. She tries to kill him, then he ties her to the bed while he steals the secret plans or whatever. The movie doesn’t waste any time on such meaningless details either. The woman, known as the princess, begs him to make love with her, tied up, with a gag. 117 says okay. Then he turns, takes his tie off, folds it neatly, and places it on the nightstand. Then he removes his cufflinks, and arranges them tidily on the nightstand. Then his shoes… and this is where I started to giggle, because normally we never see Bond actually take his clothes off, and 117’s fastidiousness here while the woman is there waiting…

117 meets with his boss, who tells him that his friend Jack is dead. Jack was his buddy in the prologue, and we have a flashback of the two of them playing volleyball in the beach, in skimpy bathing suits, laughing about nothing in a buddy-buddy way… for far too long. He takes the assignment, and goes to Cairo to find the killer. He is met by the beautiful Larmina, who regards him and mis mission with wary disdain. He is embracing her when he sees a speck on his hand, and breaks off to rub it. 117 is a neat freak, and rubs his finger along the side of her car, making an expression of disgust. He can’t accept that her car is dusty because they are in the desert. She mentions Jack, and he has another flashback, this one bringing the homoeroticism forward as the two men wrestle in the surf, laughing maniacally. It ends with a shot of 117 atop of Jack, holding his arms pinned down.

I’m beginning to realize there’s no reason in recounting the plot, as what’s funny about the movie won’t come across that way. The movie’s tone is bone-dry, it tackles everything with complete seriousness, and very smartly zeroes in on the inherently ridiculous of the conventions of Bond films, parodying them in such a way that you never laugh out loud, but just start giggling uncontrollably.

For example, every time 117 enters somewhere, we cut to an Egyptian man calling someone and saying “He’s at the hotel…” or “He’s at the marketplace…” He beats down a sudden attacker and then straightens up with a huge goofy smile. After another fight—117 can effortlessly kick ass—he smiles brightly and says “I LOVE fighting!” There is later a conversation between three undercover agents of differing sides all speaking in ominous, though nonsensical, metaphors such as “The cat who is blind sees the mouse without voice.” Later there is a fight in which 117 and an assassin throw live chickens at each other. Oh wait, one more thing: 117 comes back to find the beautiful woman helping him in his bed. He says “No, you sleep,” bidding her to stay in his bed. As soon as she falls off, however, he moves her to the couch and takes the bed himself.

All of this lives or dies by the actor playing the Bond role, and the guy here, Jean Dujardin, is FANTASTIC. Because not only is he a good actor and smart and subtle with his comic chops, he is also quite handsome in a way that comes close to Connery, and that, coupled with his comic skill and joking about himself makes him just LUDICROUSLY sexy. In a way that’s nice to look at, but also completely makes the film work. He also has that vague sense of finding everything slightly amusing Connery used to have. One of my favorite moments has 117 settling down to make love to a woman, and the camera discreetly pans over to the flowers next to the bed, and further, to the mirror, where we see 117 atop the woman, thrusting clumsily while he tries to yank down his zipper, whereupon the camera suddenly pans back to the flowers. That’s fine, but I love the moment afterward, when 117 comes back down to the lobby and the music swells in that 60s Bond life-of-the-playboy way, and he strides confidently through the lobby—despite what we’ve just seen a moment earlier.

There’s a “making-of” on the disc, during which one finds out things I didn’t notice, like that the director was very careful to paint the sets and use costumes that were colored with colors popular in the 60s, used lenses, lights and even camera movements of the 60s. It all comes through in the film—it does have that authentic 60s Bond film feel, though I wouldn’t have noticed any of it if it hadn’t been pointed out.

The other thing it makes one reflect on is just how lame American comedies are lately. This has no poop or fart jokes, no outrageousness having to do with hot babes or guys embarrassed by other guys’ genitals, no animal reaction shots—it’s just genuinely funny in a way that pokes fun at movie conventions and ignorance of other cultures, and is smart and clever all the way through. You won’t bust a gut, but it’s quite amusing and entertaining all the way through, and you don’t afterward rue the brain cells that have died while you watched it.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, especially if you’re a big Bond fan.