Retro Review – OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

When OSS agent Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre) goes missing in Cairo in 1955, Jefferson’s best friend, agent OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin), also known as Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, is sent to investigate what happened to him. While there, OSS 117 meets up with Larmina El Akmar Betouche (Berenice Bejo), Jefferson’s former secretary, who helps him get used to life in Cairo.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies is based on the series of novels by Jean Bruce, but instead of adapting them literally, this film gently pokes fun at the spy genre as a whole. Jean Dujardin plays the title character and, while he appears as cool and collected as 007, he is not quite as together as he seems. Jean Dujardin obviously had fun playing this character, who is a combination of Austin Powers, James Bond and Nick Rivers from Top Secret!, and allows him to be smug, chauvinistic and arrogant. Hubert/OSS 117 is French through and through, even to the point of ridiculousness. He hands out photographs of President René Coty as tips, and cannot understand why no-one loves the French President as he does. Hubert is hot headed and stubborn and makes snap judgements about people and countries based on ignorance and supposition. Hubert’s superiors believe him to be an expert on the ‘Arabo-Muslim world’, but in reality the spy is painfully closed-minded and offends those around him more than once. In any other hands, this would be an extremely unlikeable character, but Dujardin brings a suave charm to the role, which manages to excuse him for some of his more rash actions… And he made Fezes look cool way before Matt Smith!

Berenice Bejo plays Larmina, one of Hubert’s love interests, and she is smart and independent enough not to put up with too much of Hubert’s posturing. She frequently calls him on his crass and thoughtless comments and, when it comes down to it, is the one that actually solves the case. Bejo is, of course, stunningly beautiful in the film and plays the straight man to Dujardin’s comic role.

With The Artist, Michel Hazanavicus proved that he can do charming tragedy, but with OSS 117 he proved that he was smart enough to pull off a ‘stupid’ spoof movie. The film’s gags rarely miss their mark – even when watching subtitles – and Dujardin’s trademark eyebrows make up for the few that do not. One particularly brilliant sight gag is made after Hubert hooks up with one of his love interests; the camera pans away from the couple embracing, only for Hubert’s smooth façade to be cracked as the camera catches a gauche and awkward view of them in a mirror. The film takes the format that has been done so many times, and humanises the suave leading man by poking fun at him, while the film holds on to a strong storyline.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies tread the thin line between spoof and farce and balances perfectly; Hazanavicius has created a send up of the spy genre that was obviously done with love and admiration for the style. Ludovic Bource’s score is wonderful, Dujardin is silly and hilarious – and he looks damn good in a suit – and Bejo sparkles. The film is preposterous, silly and darn good fun.

Rating: 4/5

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