OSS 117: Le Caire Nid d’Espions

The Revenge of Jacques Bond
Squint and you'll see Sean Connery.

Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, code name OSS 117, is a character based on the novels of French writer Jean Bruce (the pen name of Jean Brochet), published in the 1940s, before Ian Fleming’s James Bond thrillers came out.

OSS 117: Le Caire Nid d’Espions, a new film featuring the French spy, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is not a straightforward spy thriller like the novels, however, but a spoof of one. If you squint, you’ll think you are watching 007 as played by Sean Connery: Jean Dujardin, famed for his recent comic turn as Brice de Nice in the favorite film of French schoolchildren, looks just as terrific as Connery in a tuxedo and is perfectly at ease in his role, grinning and laughing fatuously and wiggling his eyebrows expressively.

The suave French spy – not as bumbling as Inspector Clouseau or Max Smart but with something of their deluded self-confidence and innocence – is sent to Cairo in the 1950s on a difficult mission: protect French interests in the Middle East and secure peace in the region. As a calling card, OSS 117 hands out photos of French President René Coty, a joke the French audience found hilarious.

The politically incorrect plot involves a group of fundamentalists who are trying to take over the country. OSS 117, who knows nothing about Islam or the Middle East, is constantly insulting and patronizing the locals, but by the end of the film, he is speaking perfect Arabic.

The filmmakers nearly had something good here: Dujardin has wonderful comic potential (we are certain to see much more of him, and a sequel to this film is already planned), and the period sets and costumes give this film a great look, but apart from a few good gags here and there, the film is just silly, although it looks like it's already on its way to cult status in France. Let’s hope Dujardin gets a better vehicle next time.

Heidi Ellison


© 2006 Paris Update

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