My DVD Shelf: ‘OSS 117: Cairo Nest Of Spies’

12.24.08 9 years ago

Music Box Films

This was released in 2006 is much of the world, but only made it to America in 2008 in extremely limited release before finally finding its way onto video.

So now you have no excuse.  Seek out “OSS 117: Cairo Nest Of Spies” as soon as you can, and prepare to enjoy one of the most seductively loony films in recent memory.  Director Michel Hazanavicius has goen to painstaking lengths to make a movie that looks like it is state-of-the-art… for 1964.  And in doing so, he roasts a specific era of spy movie history with precision, ground the first “Austin Powers” covered in a totally different way.  It’s funny that giant moosey nutjob movie star Jean Dujardin looks like and plays up the Connery in this warm, daffy, oblivious train wreck of a secret agent.  He’s an international incident in motion, less of a spy and more of a biological weapon turned loose.  It’s all very silly, but it also makes continual cutting comment on the cultural insensitivies inherent to spy work in the first place.

The OSS 117 books were a hugely popular long-running series of novels in France (91 of them by creator and pulp machine Jean Bruce, and a staggering 143 more of them by his widow Josette) starting in 1949.  That means he predates Bond as a character, but obviously for Hazanavicius and his co-writer Jean-Francois Halin, their feelings about the ponymous Gallic hero are tangled up with their reaction to the ongoing international iconography of Bond.  That’s what makes this such a rich comic creation.  It’s comedy as film criticism, almost like what “Mystery Science Theater 3000” does taken to the next level.  By making such a perfect, effortless example of a film style they love, they have also completely perverted it, Mad-magazine-style, as spot on as Mel Brooks in his prime.  I’m a big fan of the film, and the disc by Music Box Films has a very funny gag reall and a brief production featurette.  I hope people take a chance on this rewarding gem, one of the best surprises I had in 2008, especially since the sequel’s already finished shooting!

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