OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies – a send up of 50s/60s spy movies centered on a French secret agent, who travels to Cairo to find out who killed his colleague. The brightest star of this is 117, the dim-witted spy (based on the Connery era Bond) who’s played superbly as a likable idiot by Jean Dujardin. He pulls off all of the jokes, centered around the chauvinism, cultural stereotyping and stupidity of ‘classic’ spy films. The riffs about Islam feel a bit risqué given what’s happened in the 10 years since this was made, but like Mel Brooks or Zucker Brothers films, the jokes are too surreal and innocent to take too much offence from – like the running gags about veal stew, flashbacks, and noisy chickens. The entire film looks and feels authentically 1960s, with very basic camera movements, a lovely ‘technicolour’ palette, and retro effects; matched with cracking kitsch sets, props, and costumes. As a comedy, this is sold: I chortled constantly through the first hour, and although it runs a tad flatter in the last 30 mins or so, it’s still more than entertaining enough. No doubt this plays better to French people, who will catch a lot of the ‘throwaway’ stuff; but still, OSS 117 Cairo, Nest of Spies is a delight to watch, expertly pairing both silly and smart gags, making it a must-see for Bond and Spy fans; particularly of things like The Naked Gun, Austin Powers, Danger 5, Pink Panther, Top Secret!, etc, etc
The Artist: follows a silent film star struggling to cope with the advent – and subsequent dominance – of sound in Hollywoodland after 1927. It’s black and white, there’s almost no digetic sound, the picture is box ratio… yet it’s in crystal clear HD! Definitely missed a trick with ‘worn footage’ or ’genuine reel’ look, feel and sound that would have polished off the aesthetics perfectly. Despite this, the film looks sublime, is beautifully shot and full of bold, striking, iconography and period detail – all packed in to the stunning mise en scéne. The charisma of both leads leaps off the screen – genuine eye candy – particularly Dujardin who without saying a word effortlessly entertains for the duration, while guiding you through his highs and lows better than most ‘talkie’ actors can. The story is simple, and drawn out in parts, most noticeable in the mid-section (Valentin’s struggle), giving the film quite a large, over-emphasised, centre-sag. The original score feels authentic, old-timey, and carries the movie during the slower parts. Above all else, The Artist is an adorable love-letter to ‘classic’ cinema in both its style and content; the opening theatre-in-theatre is silver-screen gold. However, because of this – and in the same vein as films like Cinema Paradiso – it feels like most critics, reviewers and cinema enthusiasts have been hypnotized by the cinematic history/nostalgia (combined with the non-standard formatting) and are clambering over each other to gush the highest praise imaginable. It’s a cute period piece, no doubt, but ‘Film of the Year’ is a big stretch for me. Equally good and novel (if you never watch B/W/Silent films), The Artist is enjoyable, entertaining and undeniably unique sitting in modern cinema listings; but the more steps back you take towards objectivity, the lighter, fluffier and style-dependent it begins to look.