OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

Volumes have been written about Jean Dujardin and his performance in The Artist (2011), and for good reason — the guy is hilarious. The Artist was not Dujardin’s first comedy, nor was it his first film with director Michel Hazanavicius or co-star Bérénice Bejo.

The three worked together on the spy-film satire, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006). It is a hilarious romp, and worth checking out. Do not let the French subtitles scare you away either. I wish more folks would get over their dislike of subtitles, as they are missing out on many great films.

A quick subtitle-related anecdote: I used to work for a big video store, and when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out, all of the store’s VHS copies were subtitled. The store was flooded with people wanting to exchange the tapes, because they “didn’t want to read.” It got to the point where I had to preface each transaction with “This film is subtitled.” More often than not, folks would change their mind and get a different film (as a result, copies of Nutty Professor II: The Klumps were in high demand).

Back to Cairo, Nest of Spies — like The Artist, it is a period piece. The film takes place in 1950s Cairo, and it is, in a word, gorgeous. The sets, the costumes, the locations, and the cinematography are top notch. The film not only echoes the costumes and locations of 1960s spy films, but also the cinematography and production. Film buffs take note.

the bribe

Would you do it for. . . Coty? No?

If you loved Dujardin’s suave, mugging-for-the-camera charm in The Artist, there is plenty more here. Dujardin plays the French version of James Bond, or perhaps more accurately, Maxwell Smart. The humor comes from Dujardin’s character (Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, aka OSS 117) being clueless about everything around him. Most of the humor relies on “did he just say that?” gags, as Dujardin makes brash observations about the culture in Cairo.

The humor differs from the over-the-top style of Naked Gun or Austin Powers, but there are thematic similarities. OSS 117 is a fool, but he loves his country (he tries to tip people with photos of President René Coty), and he is the definition of confidence. Dujardin also tries to “out-Connery” Sean Connery when it comes to charming the ladies as a spy, which generates plenty of hilarity. The film also features many running jokes (like the Coty photos) and sight gags.

Sure, Dujardin’s OSS 117 is a brash, arrogant fool, but you cannot help but be charmed and amused. Dujardin oozes charm and confidence, and makes OSS 117 quite the lovable character (and there aren’t any jokes about farting submarines).

Daniel J. Hogan is the geek half of Ginger and the Geek. Follow him on Twitter, @danieljhogan.

4 Responses to “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies”
  1. Andrew says:

    I watched this after listening to an interview with the director, when The Artist first came out. It was such a pleasant surprise. More people should know about this film. Nice post.

  2. Love this review! You are spot on about Dujardin trying to “out-Connery” Sean Connery when it comes to charming the ladies as a spy! Better luck next time, Agent ;-)

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