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I thought I saw Gary Oldman in Michel Hazanavicius’s OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) September 3, 2007

Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films, French Spring.
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Originally published in Digital Buryong on June 8, 2007.

Original Title: OSS 117: Le Caire nid d’espions
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Aure Atika

The 12th French Film Festival kicks off with OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, a film that parodies the spy film genre with a satirical reference to the James Bond series. As French Ambassador to the Philippines Gerard Chesnel puts it, OSS 117 is higher, and perhaps better, than 007.

And that sums up almost everything. OSS 117 is far better and wittier than James Bond. And Jean Dujardin is just trailing behind Daniel Craig in terms of muscle flexes.

Although it doesn’t look like it, the film is set in 1955 when Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (agent OSS 117) is investigating about the loss of his co-agent, Jack Jefferson, and a Russian cargo ship in Egypt. The film is based on the series of spy novels written in the 50s and 60s by Jean Bruce, sort of the French Ian Fleming. That explains the setting. The usual bombshells are on their way to lure him, seduce him, and make love with him. There are even Nazis who wanted to kill him. Stunning locations in Cairo and the Suez Canal complement with the overall look of the film — adventurous, edgy, and feels like a Run Lola Run marathon. The story may not be great but at least it’s entertaining. The detective plot blends well with the slapstick as OSS 117 is armed with impeccable wit and sarcasm. Likewise, the story may have retained the womanistic, stereotype Bond but the homoeroticism shown in its flashbacks is OSS 117’s point of difference. Quite ironically, OSS 117’s manic laughs and sexually-induced memories with his friend Jack turned him into a more appealing man — brusquely feminine. Cool.

As OSS 117, Jean Dujardin is charming, rugged, brawny, and exceptionally witty. Dujardin is a delight to watch, not to mention that he is a famous comedian in France. Rough and impatient, he even disrespects Islam. Just because he can’t sleep, he assaults the Muslim who’s asking for prayers through the town speakers. With that character, Dujardin saves the opening night.

Remember that beautiful Nokia N93 commercial with the adorable Gary Oldman? Sadly, the one shown here in local TVs roughly edited a lot of spectacular insights from the original ad.

What are the ingredients to go into making a great movie?

A catchy score. A spectacular location. Dramatic lighting. A compelling dialogue. Love. Conflict. Mystery. Drama. Witty one-liners. Special effects. A chase sequence? Clear direction. An underlying message. Something to shoot it with. And a leading man.

Believe it or not, OSS 117 has all of those — well probably a bit less of those — but it still has all the elements. As the film is a huge hit in France, director Michel Hazanavicius is already shooting the next part of the series: OSS 117 gets sent to Iran. Let’s look forward to that in the 13th FFF. * * *

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