Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Je m'appelle Bonisseur de La Bath—Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath

I’ve always been a sucker for classic Bond films, as well as films and music that capture the spirit of the early Space Age '60s era.

Tipped off by a capsule review in Entertainment Weekly, last May I had the pleasure to discover such a film, from France no less, entitled, OSS 117: Le Caire Nid d’Espion (Cairo, Nest of Spies) at a local upscale arthouse movie theater (the Landmark in Los Angeles). The official site for the film can be found here. The film is scheduled for release at the end of this month—above is the films' trailer.

As one can see from the teaser, OSS 117 is essentially a Bond parody film—in French of course— set in 1955, that authentically captures the genre and era very convincingly down to the credit sequence, the music, the cinematography, art direction, costuming, and primitive special effects, such as rear projection during driving sequences. Apparently, OSS 117 is based on a series of novels, that were made into actual spy films in France during the 1950s and ‘60s (predating Ian Fleming's Bond books!), but here it’s been updated as a comedic parody of the genre.

While the film isn’t quite as polished as your standard Hollywood fare, I enjoyed OSS 117 quite a bit, and found it very funny. I sometimes found myself on the verge of tears laughing. It helps, of course, that I watched the film with a receptive audience at an art house movie theater that provided a laugh track for much of the film.

The title character, whose codename is OSS 117 (the character's given name is Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath), is not quite as clueless as Maxwell Smart or Inspector Clouseau (though he's close), and the movie is played just slightly straighter and less-over-the top than those films. The film is definitely more authentic-looking than the Austin Powers movie, and less self-conscious or self-referential.

Some of the humor in the movie stems from the lead character being ignorant of Middle East culture and religion, so he keeps inadvertantly insulting Arabs throughout the film. As this suggests, the archaic views of Western colonialism from the era are played up for laughs. As an example, at the end of the movie when the case ends, OSS 117 predicts that the Middle East will now enjoy peace for centuries. But there also is plenty of lowbrow and double entendre humor.

The film is helped by a terrific cast, particularly lead actor Jean Dujardin, who apparently is a well known comedian in France. Dujardin manages to capture much of Sean Connery’s early 007 look and signature moves very well.

While I'm not sure everyone will get the joke, if you're comfortable with foreign films and enjoy the "space age" design of the '60s (as seen in TV shows like Mad Men and films like Catch Me If You Can), you may get a kick out of this.

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