OSS-117 Nest of Spies

Yes, that image you see before you is indeed dashing gallic Oscar Winner Jean Dujardin and the exquisite Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) in an inventive, stylish and entertaining Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) film, from 2006. OSS-117 Nest of Spies is a truly delightful spy caper, with the handsome Monsieur Dujardinas as Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath – code name OSS 117 – who’s sent to Egypt to get to the bottom of his friend and partner’s murder. Berenice is his local handler. Literally and otherwise.

oss117_cairo_nestofspies_dujardin

OSS-117 pulls off the feat of being both faithful to the James Bond / Eurospy genre, and parodying it mercilessly. The performances are great, but it’s the attention to the 1950’s styling that’s most arresting – the cinematography, the art direction, the bleached out lighting, the obvious rear projection and camera movements, the music and the fantastic costumes (Berenice is literally gob-smackingly gorgeous throughout) – that’s so remarkable. It’s campy without being silly, it’s sexist, chauvinist, imperialist and Islamophobic, whilst simulatenously skewering those views in a perfect deadpan. It’s the film you wish Austin Powers had been – and further proof, if it was needed, of the imperative to watch more foreign films. .

The Artist

The Artist is a fairly ordinary film about the downfall and partial rehabilitation of a vain and prideful man at the time that silent movies morph into talkies in glamorous Hollywood. Amazingly enough, this dull and pretty tawdry piece of theater is transformed into an event movie, entirely because it’s filmed in black and white, and is itself silent for most of its running time. I didn’t enjoy it tremendously, and I sort of fell asleep in the middle.

However, The Artist is worth reporting for a couple of reasons – not least because Jean duJardin’s morning hair is slick and glossy and immaculate whereas mine looks like Margaret Thatcher in a windstorm. No, “The Artist” is the first Best Picture winning movie in a gazillion years – and one of only about twenty nominees since 1973 – to be shot entirely in LA. From downtown L.A.’s historic Orpheum Theatre to the Hancock Park mansion where Mary Pickford once lived, Director Michel Hazavanicius has tellingly said that his film was “not just a love letter to silent cinema but to the city of Los Angeles as well.” So that’s a nice up to Hollywood, which has been battered almost unrelentingly by what the Californians love to call “runaway production”.

And secondly, given the loving homage to LA, “The Artist” is in fact a French film, with finance from French government funds, I haven’t heard any cacophonous whining from the French that this runaway film shot anywhere other than Paris.