At the Academy Awards this weekend, The Artist won Best Picture. The movie was directed by Michel Hazanavicius, who won Best Director. It starred Jean Dujardin, who won Best Actor. Also nominated, but losing out to Octavia Spencer, was Bernice Bejo. I have not seen this movie, but I have watched OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. Why is this relevant? Well, because this movie was directed by Hazanavicius. Also, it starred Dujardin. Oh, and Bejo is the female lead. So, in a way, it is the dry run for The Artist, even if they are very different movies.
Before I get into the movie, I shall point out that the movie is in French and subtitled. Generally speaking, I don’t watch movies with subtitles, but it’s not because of some sort of ethnocentrism, or because I don’t want to read during a movie. It’s just that not be able to understand the language causes me to not be able to fully understand and appreciate the performances, and having to read the dialogue means I can’t focus on the action and the acting as much, which is a negative. Still, Netflix has been recommending this movie to me for years, and given the success of The Artist, I thought I’d give it a try.
The movie is a spoof of spy films, with James Bond being the most notable example of the kind of movie been spoofed. The film is even shot in a style reminiscent of Bond films, although the main character is a parody the Bond and similar spies. Obviously, Austin Powers is a point of reference, but there is also a little bit of a Black Dynamite vibe as well, as the film occasionally makes things intentionally awkward or clumsy looking, particularly in the opening vignette. However, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (there is also an OSS 117 sequel called Lost in Rio) is its own movie, and comparisons can only take you so far.
Dujardin plays Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, aka OSS 117. He is a French spy who is suave with the ladies, but he is also an idiot and kind of a jerk with little regard to any culture that isn’t French, as he is an extreme patriot. For example, while he is considered an expert on Muslim culture, he has no sense of the scope of the religion and he finds it very silly and expects it is a passing fad. Through all his silly exploits and errors, he continues to ooze charm and ego.
When Hubert’s old partner, Jack Jefferson, disappears in Cairo, along with a Soviet cargo ship, Hubert is crushed, and heads to Cairo to sort things out. However, he must be careful, for Cairo is a nest of spies. His assistant is Lamina El Akmar Betouche, played by Bejo. She is an Egyptian woman who does not like Hubert’s take on her religion or culture, but, shockingly, also has trouble resisting his charms. Hubert goes about trying to solve the case, and taking care of his front poultry business, while dealing with all the dangerous characters around him.
Despite the language barrier, the movie is quite funny. It is silly, but it is a good spoof of the spy genre, much like Airplane! was to disaster movies, although the style of humor is different. Dujardin is very good as OSS 117, as he carries himself perfectly in pretty much every scene. There are a lot of good jokes in the movie, although I feel that some of it was lost in the language. I’m pretty sure there were a few puns and plays on words I could not understand in subtitles. However, I still had plenty to laugh at. There is a running gag involving a light switch that kept making me laugh every time, and late in a movie there is a black and white flashback playing off similar flashbacks earlier in the movie that was absolutely tremendous.
Even if you don’t speak French, there is plenty to enjoy from OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. Even subtitled, it was a good comedy and a well done spoof. People complained about The Artist being a light, fairly comedic movie and that it shouldn’t have won the Oscar. However, there are no complaints about that for this movie. It is what people expect from a spoof, and this movie delivers.