Last year, we were extremely complimentary to the first OSS 117 movie, “Cairo, Nest Of Spies”. It was genuinely one of the funniest films I’d seen in years, multiple laugh out loud moments, as well as having a real feel for the genre and time it was spoofing (Eurospy thrillers of the 1960s). And I’m happy to report that the sequel is every bit as good, and the sole less-than-happy thing about it is that director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin only made two of them.
To recap the character – OSS 117 is a French institution, predating James Bond by four years and still hugely popular. Subject of 265 novels and 10 films, he’s Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, an American from Louisiana who works for the French intelligence agency OSS as well as the CIA (his being American is completely ignored in this movie, however). A dashing spy, his adventures were largely serious affairs, but more than a decade after the the last new novel or movie, he was brought back to both pay tribute to and parody that whole era. “Cairo, Nest Of Spies” also starred Berenice Bejo, who’d go on to marry Hazanavicius, but OSS 117 isn’t a man to be tied down, so she doesn’t return for the sequel.
Jean Dujardin is so good, right from the first scene (which is a shootout between him and some Chinese gunmen, where his guests, a bunch of beautiful women, are mown down with neither side being remotely interested about saving or protecting them); and it just keeps on getting better. He’s asked to go to Rio to hand over $50,000 in return for a microfilm with a list of French collaborators with the Nazis, and Bath’s response – “must be a micro-sized list” – shows how completely naïve he is about both history and international relations, things he’s supposed to be an expert in. The knowing look of his superior officer also indicates that Hazanavicius, who was born and brought up Jewish, has a point he’d like to make through all the jokes.
ASIDE: the literal translation of the film’s French title is “Rio Is Not Responding”, a reference to a 1933 sci-fi novel by Clifford Siodmak, “F.P.1 Is Not Responding”, about a man-made base in the middle of the Atlantic, which was also made into a movie with Peter Lorre in it. If I can find the English language version, get ready for a review soon.
Bath meets an American agent (the wonderfully named “Trumendous”) in Rio who helps get him acclimatised at the same time as insulting him in extremely graphic English. Admittedly, I don’t watch tons of non-English cinema, but it’s interesting how rarely you hear “foreign” language spoken by an American with an obviously American accent; especially compared to the heavily accented English spoken by many foreign actors. Perhaps it’s more common than I realise, but it’s still pretty cool to see.
The most important thing about Bath, and “Lost In Rio”, is how spectacularly racist and misogynist he is, with an added dash of anti-Semitism, and how lacking his view of other countries and cultures is. When he meets up with Mossad to discuss bringing some Nazis to justice, he says that Jewish people can’t go undercover because Nazis would recognise them by their noses; when the beautiful Mossad agent Dolorès Koulechov (Louise Monot) compliments his career and says she’s looking forward to working with him, he says “what a pretty secretary!” When discussing the treatment of Jews by the Nazis, he says “obviously, you’re a little bit responsible”. It’s jaw dropping and it’s said by a character that, for all his enormous character flaws, you’re really supposed to like.
This is what cloth-eared comedians like Ricky Gervais have tried to make a career of, done effortlessly and in the space of 90 minutes. It’s not enough to say racist or sexist things and then do a cheeky grin at the camera; Dujardin does it all completely convinced he’s right, he lives in an utterly sheltered world of self-confidence, and experience teaches him he’s wrong. It’s done with such cleverness and such perfect timing, I laughed out loud over and over again.
I’ve not even mentioned how he goes to a hippie commune to find the son of the former Nazi who’s selling the list of collaborators, takes acid and gets involved in an orgy with him enjoying the company of both genders; the two luchador assassins and their gunfire gag; the running joke with Chinese revenge squads who try to get him back for what happened at the beginning of the movie; the Nazi party and their rendition of “The Girl From Ipanema”, or a hundred other things. It’s bloody brilliant, is what I’m trying to get across.
Also worth mentioning, how perfectly Hazanavicius and his team recreated the cinematic era, with its cheap back-projection during driving scenes, its colourful locations and characters, and its fast-paced plot. But most importantly, it’s really really funny. Would that Hollywood could so skilfully navigate the bounds of good taste in such a charming way! But enough from me. If you’ve ever listened to a recommendation from me before, this is the time to listen again. Check this series of films out, you won’t be disappointed.
Rating: thumbs up