I never understood the allure of James Bond films–or rather, I never understood why the hell anyone would admit to being a fan of such pendulously dull male adolescent fantasies. I’d get it if these films had been screened like nudie films used to be, in select ares of Times Square, where those burdened with a shameful yen for cartoonish dialogue + farm hand’s ideas of fancy living could go see ol’ Jimmy drive his purty car and spar with follically challenged villains. But who’d have thought such heavyhanded silliness would become so culturally entrenched?
But as usual, my sense of what will be admired and duplicated is wrong wrong wrong. And (she points out with a girlishly raised index finger) I was born too late to get all jazzed up by cold war hi-jinks in the cinema. The early 60s were a fermentative and frightening era, and Jimmy B’s smug suavity calmed WWII victors’ fears of just what the fuck the Communists were percolating behind their Iron Curtain, while here in capitalistic society men were wrapping their minds around the honestly world-changing fact that women could now actually have sex without getting pregnant, and quite frequently chose to do so with people other than their husbands. . .but still. “Plenty O’Toole?” “Pussy Galore”?
So I wasn’t looking forward to seeing OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies on Friday night. Not only was it a James Bond spoof–a terrifying thought, as anyone who’s sat through the 1967 version of Casino Royale can attest–but it was a French James Bond spoof. And while our Gallic friends are good at much (they do consistently creative things with butter and xenophobia), subtle mockery is not their strong suit. Plus, the film was being screened outdoors, it was supposed to rain, and I’d been listening to Leonard Cohen on my ipod with the expected snarliness that always follows such luscious self-indulgence.
To my surprise, OSS 117 was a fantastic, hilarious surprise. I’d like to sit through the film again, there on Cedar Hill in Central Park, outside of the French Embassy, laughing my ass off as the sky softly spits on my hair. The film features the stars of 2012’s big Oscar winner, The Artist, and Jean Dujardin is astonishingly good in a broad and ballsy comedy performance. His OSS 117, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, is wildly impressed by his own charms and also happens to be a neat-freak goofball who, between travelling the world bedding women and assaulting foreign agents, tends to engage in fantasies about near-naked beach frolics with his friend Jack. He also likes to repeatedly cock his gun while women watch, to mambo and play the mandolin, and, naturally, to throw chickens at random assailants that cross his path. The film takes the piss out of the stale sophistication of the Bond films, with spies smugly commending themselves for the peace they’ve created in the Middle East, and the eternal good the French brought to their colonies.
Also, this movie contained a joke that had me laughing two days later: a joke almost Lubitschean in its silliness, darkness, and plaintive humanity. (I remember inhaling in shock when, in Lubitsch’s To Be and Not to Be, concentration camp jokes began flying about–they were scandalous, brilliant.) At the climax of OSS 117, Bossinaire has been captured by a Nazi with a gun and a vendetta. This Nazi, whose trembling rod indicates a few homoerotic fantasies of his own, is thoroughly backed up by menacing Gestapo agents. He levels his pistol at Bossinaire and dolefully asks him, “Why are we Nazis always the bad guys?”
The Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the City of New York Parks and Recreation will continue these outdoor screenings all summer long in parks throughout Manhattan. As they say on frenchculture.org, “The 2012 Films on the Green Festival features 8 free French screenings all adapted from French and American literature. Through an array of different cinematic genres – thriller, comedy, drama, romance and musical, the 2012 line-up includes films adapted from a wide range of literary styles – fairy tale (Donkey Skin), poetry (The Snows of Kilimanjaro) and graphic novel (Persepolis) – and highlights how great French directors like François Truffaut, Jacques Demy or Costa-Gavras have adapted works of literature.”
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (OSS117, Le Caire Nid d’Espions), 2006, dir. Michel Hazanavicius, starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo.