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  OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies A North African CampaignBuy this film here.
Year: 2006
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Aure Atika, Philippe Lefebvre, Constantin Alexandrov, Saïd Amadis, Laurent Bateau, Claude Brosset, François Damiens, Youssef Hamid, Khalid Maadour, Arsène Mosca, Abdellah Moundy, Eric Prat, Richard Sammel, Michael Hofland
Genre: Comedy, Thriller, Adventure
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: At the end of the Second World War, a Nazi colonel was attempting to flee the losing side with some important documents, and had arranged for a plane to take him to South America. However, he had reckoned without the powers of the French secret service, and when he boarded the aircraft his suspicions were raised due to his assistant sleeping through the flight. Not only that, he wasn't his assistant at all, but an impostor who has switched the documents; the colonel shoots him in the leg to disable him, but there's another agent flying the plane: OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin), who hates Nazis and loves to see justice done - but what will he do now the war is over?

He will carry on on the secret service just as he has done before, because if there's one hero oblivious to the world's conspiracies and political upheavals, it is OSS 117. Now wait a minute, you might say, if you've heard of this character then you'll be thinking this is not exactly how you recall him, and that's the inspiration of Cairo, Nest of Spies. It takes a spoofy look at those old espionage movies and puts a twenty-first century spin on them, where the leading man is two-fisted adventurer with the glory of France uppermost in his mind, yet is also hopelessly vain and deluded.

Every so often someone will suggest making a James Bond film as a period piece to resemble the time they were written in, while this has never happened, director Michel Hazanavicius does precisely that with OSS 117, putting him in the Egypt of 1955 just before the Suez crisis and letting him run amok. Everything you'd expect to see is here, with the beautiful women he cannot grasp would do anything but fall at his feet, the hotel room-destroying brawls, and the shifty characters keeping an eye on him and calling in their reports on public phones. It looks perfect, so good that it could almost have come from the fifties, yet the humour gives it away.

This might have fallen flat with a less charming leading man, but Dujardin is absolutely terrific here, holding it all together when it seems as if the rest of the film is running its parodies into the ground. Time and again you wonder how far they can go with this, and then Dujardin will allow the proceedings to recover with a hilarious bit of business such as his dancing at a posh Cairo do, or enjoying witnessing a catfight just that bit too much. It helps that it's all impeccably stylish, and he looks the part with his smooth yet somehow dim grin, sharp suits and not a hair out of place; his co-stars match him playing what are essentially knowing clichés, adding to the authenticity.

When OSS 117, or Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath on his passport, arrives in Cairo he is met by his contact, an attractive local called Larmina (Bérénice Bejo) who he immediately makes moves on, though finds that she's not the pushover he would have wanted. She brings out his hopeless ignorance of the culture he has landed in (in spite of being a globe-trotter, he has no interest in learning about the world outside France), and he cannot understand why anyone would want to be a Muslim or not speak French, not to mention thinking that the Suez canal was built by the Ancient Egyptians. We can recognise his narrow views because there are people like that in every country, and here they are sent up with aplomb, although there's a hint of admiration that someone could be so stupid yet still save the day. Brimming with laugh out loud gags, this is a real treat for spy spoof fans. Music by Ludovic Bource and Kamel Ech-Cheik.

Aka: OSS 117: Le Caire nid d'espions.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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