I take back anything disparaging I might have said in my somewhat disappointed review of The Artist. Michel Hazanavicius is a GENIUS. I thought The Artist was fine, but after all the buzz and the hubbub, I walked out of it feeling pretty underwhelmed. But his spy spoof, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, and it's sequel, OSS 117: Lost in Rio are exactly my kind of movie.
I had known of these movies' existence for years, and had been interested in seeing them, but I had never made the connection that The Artist was directed by and starring the same guys, Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin.
OSS 117 is a spy spoof based on a long running series of French novels and movies that predates even James Bond. The agent in question is Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, who is basically all of the worst qualities of Sean Connery's James Bond pushed to hilarious extremes. He is cocky and arrogant, racist, sexist, and xenophobic, not all that smart, and incredibly lucky.
In the first film, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, Bonisseur de La Bath is sent to Cairo to investigate a missing fellow agent. While there he runs afoul of Nazis, Soviets, and Muslim extremists. Really, Muslims in general, after he beats the crap out of the guy who keeps him awake at night by ringing the early morning prayer bell. There are all of the ingredients of a good spy movie, cars, action, violence, betrayal, and girls, including Dujardin's The Artist costar, Berenice Bejo as Larmina.
Cairo, Nest of Spies is set in the late 1950's and Hazanavicius shoots it in the style of films from that time period. The camerawork, production design, and wardrobe are spot on. Of the old Bond movies, it is probably most visually similar to the first two, Dr. No and From Russia with Love.
The sequel, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, follows Bonisseur de La Bath as he teams up with a sexy female Mossad agent in Brazil to hunt Nazi war criminals and recover a microfilm that would be damning to the French government. While there, he encounters vengeful Chinese, a foul-mouthed CIA agent, alligators, and hippies.
Like the previous film, Lost in Rio is also shot in the style of a film from the time period it is set in. This time around, it's set in 1967. One of the funniest running gags in the whole movie involves the extreme overuse of the slick split-screen editing style of such late 60's films as The Thomas Crown Affair.
After watching these movies, I'm convinced that Jean Dujardin is one of the funniest comedy actors in the world. Nobody on earth plays smug and self satisfied as hilariously as he does. He plays that up a bit in The Artist, too. Sometimes he smiles proudly to himself at a one-liner he makes, even when nobody is around to hear it. I also love what a terrible spy he is, completely ignorant of other cultures, politics, and even foreign languages. A joke that runs through both movies is that he doesn't know a word of any foreign languages. He learns to count to five in Arabic in the first one, and nods dumbly as the CIA agent endlessly insults him in English. He doesn't even seem to know what exactly the Nazis did that made them France's enemies. I also loved all the smaller details about his character, such as his disgust at the dust on Larmina's car.
I can't recommend the OSS 117 movies enough. They're smart and goofy at the same time, balancing high brow and low brow comedy pretty perfectly. I laughed a ton during both of them. Not only that, but I think they've improved my opinion of The Artist, too. Seeing it in context as a piece of Hazanavicius' body of work really helped. He was doing for silent movies of the 1920's what he did for spy movies of the 1960's with these, though the OSS 117 movies are considerably sillier. I now eagerly await whatever Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin have up their sleeves for us next.