OSS 117:Nest Of Spies


While less side-splittingly funny that the giddy, demented “OSS 117, Nest Of Spies“, fans will find plenty to laugh at in the second installment of this French homage to spy films of the 60’s and 70’s.

Director Michel Hazanavicius’s films are based on the French series of 117 pulp novels published by “Fleuve Noir Espionnage” from 1949 to 1992 (before James Bond!) The adventures of Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, an American-French colonel who worked for the OSS, was so popular that after author Jean Bruce died his wife Josette Bruce and their children wrote another 167 titles.

Six prior films based on the character were released in France before Hazanavicius began his spoof franchise, satirizing the outdated mindset intrinsic to the books. Arrogant, racist, xenophobic-Jean Desjardin has crafted an intoxicating character typifying every crass aspect of the military men of the colonial period. His deadpan delivery, cheesy laugh and comic commitment are comic gold, despite flaws in the film he inhabits.

A handsome fool, whose groomed eyebrows frame his debonair narcissism, Hubert expects to be loved and admired wherever he goes.
He’s not a bad man, it’s just that he lives in an unchanging world where women are meant to decorate the bedroom and kitchen, and the “White Man’s Burden” requires him to battle all baddies (anyone not French). The film’s highest moments capitalize on the conflict between Hubert’s paralyzed world-view, and his heartfelt need to be everybody’s hero.

It’s 1967, lantern-jawed ladies man Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (Desjardin) arrives at Rio’s Galeão Airport, trailed by adoring stewardesses. He’s tracking a microfilm proof of French countrymen Nazis collaborators. Blithely un-aware of geo-politics, heroic Hubert goes where the action and the babes are.

Beset by “Chinamen”, as Hubert dubs the local Red Chinese, he gets involved with beautiful Mossad agent Dolores Koulechov (Louise Monot), a hippy commune, and Latin Luchadores wrestlers. His relationship with Dolores, who he mistakes for his secretary, gives him full rein to drop sexist and anti-Semitic boners, including expecting her to make dinner and set the table when they are lost in the rainforest.

The French need the microfilm proof. The Mossad want to capture the remaining Nazi’s to stand trial for war crimes. This makes Hubert and Dolores partners. Hubert has a murky homoerotic history, here activated in an Acid-dropping orgy and some steam bath events with local bad guys. There’s a swinging chalet party where Hubert seduces a Chinese countess (Moon Daill) amid a gun battle. Begging for his life, Nazi commandante Von Zimmel (Rudiger Vogler) quotes Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”. There’s an extended Hitchcock parody at the climax and a daffy send up of “The Girl From Ipanema.” In one superbly silly scene, half-paralyzed Hubert tries to chase his enemy down a hallway in a comic answer to “Shock Corridor”, When Hubert needs Nazi’s he goes to the German embassy in Rio and asks for the list of the “Nazi Guild.”

Unlike the Kitsch-reliant Austin Powers series, an attention to detail  keeps the visual jokes high. There’s the relentless 60’s split screen, occasionally grainy footage, the rear-screen projection road scenes, the old school camera moves. A muted widescreen palette captures a time warp Brasilia.

Maamar Ech-Cheikh’s art direction, Jimena Esteve’s sets, Nathalie Chesnais’s costumes and Guillaume Schiffman’s cinematography are perfectly tuned to the period and the joke.

Having said this, the film lacks the subtlety of the first film, relying on less on character goofyness and the audience’s ability to parse its satire, and more on broader cliché. Perhaps the producers are targeting a younger audience. The racial jokes are less accurate, the set pieces far less organic.

Foul-mouthed CIA agent Bill Tremendous (Ken Samuels) is a disappointment. He’s part of what deflates the overall comedy.”OSS 117:Nest Of Spies” had the marvelous Philippe Lefebvre as Jack Jefferson, Hubert’s buddy, unacknowledged homoerotic dreamboat and ultimate foil. Neither of Hubert’s love interests, Louise Monot nor Reem Kherici (an Amy Wine house be-wigged Carlotta) is as funny as the beauties from the first film.

I hope the team regains its artistic high ground in the upcoming installment.


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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