Oss 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies

2006, Movie, NR, 99 mins


A huge hit in France, Michel Hazanavicius' straight-faced spy spoof unleashes a French operative of incomparable incompetence on the volatile Middle East of 1955.

1945, Germany: French spies Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre) and Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin) – respectively OSS agents 283 and 117 – steal some valuable military blueprints away from the Nazis with panache and style. Ten years later, in Rome, Hubert survives attempted assassination by comely Princess Al Tarouk (Aure Atika), the niece of deposed Egyptian King Farouk, and delivers the sealed envelope she was carrying to his boss. The contents include shocking proof that Jack, working undercover in Cairo, has been murdered. The situation in Egypt is unstable: The Russians and the Americans are at each other's throats, England is trying to assert control over the Suez Canal, a Russian freighter is missing and religious extremists are fomenting anti-Western sentiment. Hubert's assignment: Posing as Lucien Bramard, Jack's partner in the poultry husbandry business, he's to figure out what Jack discovered that got him killed and broker peace in the Middle East. That Hubert is a sexist moron whose blinkered worldview extends no further than his favorite cafe doesn't stop him blundering in where angels fear to tread, and without the help of Larmina El Akmar Betouche (Berenice Bejo), his local contact, he might well plunge the country into all out war.

Unlike the AUSTIN POWERS films to which it's been compared, director and co-writer Hazanavicius' comedy generally avoids broad jokes in favor of tweaking the conventions and attitudes of cold war-era spy thrillers just enough to bring their fatuous absurdities to the surface. The creation of novelist Jean Bruce, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath is an international man of intrigue like Ian Fleming's James Bond (a character he actually predated), and was featured in his own series of glossy adventures. Comic actor Dujardin has the looks and deportment to have starred in any one of them, which only makes his boneheadedness sillier. Hazanavicius and co-writer Jean-Francois Halin aren't above going for the coarse laugh, notably in the none-too-subtly homoerotic flashbacks to Hubert and his good friend Jack romping on the beach, or the extended gag involving Hubert's his big gun, carefully positioned at crotch level. And woe betide the unfortunate who mangles the OSS secret greeting – "How's the veal stew?" – by asking after the goulash. But a little wit goes a long way, and there's plenty in Hazanavicius' sly evocation of the visual clichés of big budget espionage films, from the fabulous '50s decor and low tech fight scenes to deeply blue day-for-night sequences. (In French, with English subtitles) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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