OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

The Best Spy Spoof Since Austin Powers

Two years after winning the audience prize at SIFF, this hilarious French spy spoof arrives like a breath of dry martini–chilled air from 1955. Before Ian Fleming devised 007, long before Mike Myers was born (later to conceive Austin Powers), French agent OSS 117 was a pulpy sensation in countless espionage novels and several movies. Now the character has been revived in all his sexist, chauvinist, colonialist, DeGaullist, oblivious glory—a nattily dressed secret agent who doesn't know the first thing about the world outside his Parisian tailor's shop, nor does he care to learn. Upon arrival in Egypt, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin) is yawningly incredulous that people speak Arabic—not French? Zut alors!—and worship a strange god. This whole Islam thing, he predicts, it'll never last. Though assigned a chic local assistant (Bérénice Béjo), and attracting notice from a sexy princess (Aure Atika), our man in Cairo is mainly confounded by the chicken plant he must run as a cover for his covert operations. And he's haunted by the memory of his dead WWII buddy Jack, with whom he played many a manly, joyous paddleball game on the beach, then wrestled ecstatically in the surf. Oh, how they laughed together, Hubert and Jack! Laughed! My favorite comedy from 2006, OSS 117 is deliciously and authentically textured with the cheesy rear-screen projection, tailored JFK suits, and trim Jackie dresses of the era, but its innocent period ignorance of the world still resonates. As an incurious, self-assured, prosperous idiot barges his way through a foreign culture he doesn't understand, making enemies and offending the natives at every turn, I remember thinking to myself at SIFF, it's like we're living through the sequel today. Only not as comedy.

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