OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions

Synopsis: France, comic star Jean Dujardin stars as secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, a.k.a. OSS 117 who in the tradition of Maxwell Smart and Inspector Clouseau somehow succeeds in spite of his ineptitude. After a fellow agent and close friend is murdered, Hubert is ordered to take his place at the head of a poultry firm in Cairo. This is to be his cover while he investigates Jack’s death, monitors the Suez Canal, checks up on the Brits and Soviets, burnishes France’s reputation, quells a fundamentalist rebellion and brokers peace in the Middle East…. all in spite of his colossal but debonair cluelessness!
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OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions 7.75

This series is based on a string of books that were published in France from the late-40s until the mid-90s. All in all, a total of 258 books are have seen the light of day – and a half-dozen films were made from 1956 to 1970.

OSS 177 predates 007 by a few years, both in print and on screen, and yet this revival of the film series makes references that are unmistakably obvious to fans of the ‘60s James Bond films. In fact, despite having never read or seen OSS 117 before, it felt very familiar to me – except French. And charmingly idiotic.

One might be tempted to compare this film to the Austin Powers series, which also spoofed spy films of the era (and successfully so for all of one whole outing!). However, Austin Powers lacked genuine charm and subtle wit, whereas OSS 117 mostly manages to avoid pre-pubescence and caters to a more worldly cinema-goer – one that has at least a basic understanding of international affairs and other cultures.

In fact, what this film does best is poke fun at the French colonialist mentality and, presumably, the arrogance that had been ingrained at the time. It could be argued that the themes the film wishes to highlight, such as cultural divides and racial tolerance, are still relevant in France today (and maybe that was the intention of the film-makers, but I would be speculating).

Suffice it to say that fans of Sean Connery’s 007 outings and fans of spoofs should have a great time watching this film: it’s funny, it’s skilfully-made, and it’s (relatively) smart.

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