OSS 117: Cairo - Nest Of Spies


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

OSS 117: Cairo - Nest Of Spies
"OSS has style in spades."

Back in 1949, French writer Jean Bruce created Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath – better known by the monkier OSS 117 – a suave sophisticated spy, in a similar vein to James Bond. Although 007 would go on to find more worldwide reknown, 0SS is, in fact the older of the two by four years and went on to feature in 256 novels and seven feature films.

Bringing him bang up to date are director Michel Hazanavicius and screenwriter Jean-François Halin, who rather than take him down the ‘serious’ route favoured by recent Bond outing Casino Royale, have opted to put the spoof into spying, with a uniquely French twist.

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Ten years after a mission into Nazi Germany, OSS (Jean Dujardin) finds himself posted to Cairo to find out what happened to his former spying partner Jack (Philippe Lefebvre). As ill-adept at fitting in as Inspector Clouseau, he embarks on his mission with the help of Larmina El Akmar Betouche (Bérénice Bejo) and a cover job as the head of a chicken farming company.

As with most spy/police spoofs the plot is largely incidental and mostly an excuse for a romp through a sequence of parodies of familiar bits of business from spy films past. This means we are treated to a scene in which OSS, disguised as a musician, gets into a tussle, after which his hair miraculously springs back into style with the brush of a hand and, of course, the obligatory trip to a steam bath. There is also a rich seam of running gags, such as the lights being turned on in the chicken house, causing the birds to riot and a daft-as-a-brush sub-plot about an muezzin.

OSS has style in spades. The mid-Fifties look is perfectly captured, from the colours and scoring through to the camerawork and from the excellent opening titles until the final credit sequence. The script has been expertly translated from the French and retains plenty of verbal trickery in English. On the downside, the lines come so thick and fast that they do lose a bit of zing when you reading via subtitles and – as with almost all films of this ilk – some of the set pieces and jokes work better than others.

It is Dujardin – a comic star in his native France - who lifts the proceedings above the average. He is perfect as the not-so-super spy, worthy of his place in a lineage extending back through Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and Naked Gun to the Pink Panther. He has a mastery of visual comedy and uses gestures - such as the straightening of his tie in incongruous circumstances - to good effect, without ever tipping over into the outright slapstick of Mr Bean. While not roll around the floor funny, OSS is so good humoured, it endears itself.

Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2007
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Fifties spoof sees not-so-super spy go on a mission to Cairo.
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Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Writer: Jean-François Halin, Michel Hazanavicius, based on characters by Jean Bruce

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Aure Atika, Philippe Lefebvre, Constantin Alexandrov, Saïd Amadis, Laurent Bateau, Claude Brosset, François Damiens, Youssef Hamid, Khalid Maadour

Year: 2006

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: France


French 2007

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