Reflections on “OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions”
dir. Michel Hazanavicius, script by Jean-François Halin
It was with considerable astonishment that I discovered the “OSS 117” books (Jean Bruce) were in publication a few years before the Bond series. Film adaptations have been around since the mid-fifties and have known significant success – the hero being played at one time (1968) by none other than John Gavin (signed to play Bond in “Diamonds are Forever”, but replaced at the last moment by the returning Sean Connery).
It is important to establish the connection with Bond as this French film (Agent OSS 117 has French origins) is a lovely pastiche of the early Bond films. Although quite broad is places, it can also be surprisingly clever and subtle in its mickey-taking. A good knowledge of those early Bond films and Connery’s performances in them will undoubtedly help the viewer get more out of the film, but it is not restricted solely to making fun of Bond – any number of adventure cinema conventions are also targeted.
Swipes are taken at Second World War films, Indiana Jones, sexist female roles, arrogant (and incompetent) heroes, underlying (suggested) homosexuality of macho heroes, devices used for padding and continuity in action films, (perceived) French superiority and colonial attitudes, outsized villains with plans for world domination, confusing (and confused) plots and twists, and betrayal. However, it is through the medium of Bond mockery that these swipes are delivered.
Jean Dujardin (OSS 117) captures Connery’s expressions and mannerisms almost perfectly – the raising of the eyebrows, the sarcastic drawing back of the lips, the rolling of the eyes when addressing another character, the opening of the jacket and placing his hands on his hips, the way he walks into a room looking from one side to another – all these little mannerisms you hardly notice at the time, but seem meaningful and amusing when reproduced by another actor.
Several scenes appear to have been filmed with Bond scenes firmly in mind – frolicking on the beach is filmed and edited à la “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, the arrival at Cairo airport is remarkably similar to Bond’s arrival in Jamaica in “Dr No”, travelling by car with poor background work (check the sudden change in road width) (also “Dr No”), fights which have been cranked up and sharply edited (“Thunderball” and “You only live twice”), the girl fight from “From Russia with love”, the steam bath scene and betrayal from “Goldeneye”, and even the underwater shots from “For your eyes only”.
The sequence at the beginning of the film is reminiscent of “Where eagles dare”, and is filmed very much in the style of “Indiana Jones”, emphasising the heroic qualities of the central character while making him as cool and controlled as possible.
Of course, copying style is not enough to make the whole funny – it is playful, self-aware and intelligent, but it is made amusing by juxtaposing self-confidence and incompetence, macho superiority and inferiority to female intelligence, implied homosexuality and macho posturing, cultural superiority and ignorance, and unending confidence in the face of crushing reality.
Add to this mixture a sexist attitude toward the female roles (who are obliged to reveal their figures for no apparent reason but for audience titillation), unnecessary complications and twists in the plot, and various continuity devices from the sixties (planes arriving at airports – “Dr No” and “Live and let die”, characters walking across screen smiling and laughing for no good reason), and you have a lovely and lively pastiche, though it may not be fully appreciated by those who don’t know adventure cinema characters and conventions, or whose knowledge of colonialist attitudes is scant.
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