Monthly Archives: December 2008

OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES

Imagine: Sacha Baron Cohen playing Sean Connery with the sleuthing ability of Clouseau in an impeccably reconstructed James Bond satire by way of Team America — in French.

Cairo, Nest of Spies

The title sequence of OSS 117 — inspired by Maurice Binder’s titles for Dr. No rather than those of the subsequent Bond movies — put a smile on my face that didn’t leave for the next 99 minutes.

Not only does Jean Dujardin recreate every Connery eyebrow raise and smirk but director Michel Hazanavicius follows the style and editing of an early 60s Bond movie with the precision that Scorsese mimicked Hitchcock in The Key to Reserva. A foot chase is edited so immaculately that it can make a joke out of a character’s lines of sight and lack of continuity. This is not only visual comedy but editorial comedy (the most pure form of cinematic humor?) combined in a silent sequence that is so well sustained it keeps getting funnier.

Jean Dujardin

Above all of the film’s period delights, however, this is Jean Dujardin’s film. He commands the screen not only with every facial microexpression but with every studied movement of his whole body. Unlike Zoolander’s one-note posing-as-farce joke, Dujardin successfully exudes late 50s cool even while he sends up every narcissistic cuff-check, jacket-buttoning, and runwayesque head-turn (you know, the one right in front of the camera that acknowledges its presence by ignoring it so intently). Without a single pratfall, this is physical comedy at its most rarefied: physical satire.

And it is satire rather than mere parody, for every frame is a devastating but always gentle jab at pompous colonial attitudes and their close correspondence to Bond’s patronizing attitude towards women. Though the satirical element is always present and always clear, it succeeds most crucially in always staying funny where most attempts fail by eventually becoming too earnest.

Not only does this film make you realize the kind of movie Get Smart could and should have been (OSS 117 is itself a remake of a Bond-ripoff franchise from the 60s), it is the kind of movie I keep watching movies for: in the hope that I’ll stumble on little gems just like this. So I am thrilled that a sequel set in Rio de Janeiro is currently in post-production.

Rio ne repond plus

BLINDNESS

This poor man’s Children of Men compensates Julianne Moore for her limited screen time in that film by never letting her out of the camera’s sight, but unfortunately Fernando Meirelles doesn’t live up to his side of the bargain.

Too much time (i.e. the majority of the film) is spent in the quarantine facility for the first victims of the epidemic, where too little happens. I don’t know about you, but if I were the only sighted person in a blind world, I would realise that I am the equivalent of a ninja compared to everyone else and do something with it. But Julianne Moore spends her time trying to act as blind as possible so no one will find out, until very late in the game when the movie becomes awesome for maybe 30-60 seconds.

The film is also kind of offensive to blind people by its suggestion that if everyone became blind we would quit using toilets (not to mention specific atrocities). Even metaphorical situations must still be credible on the literal level. Whether an epidemic of blindness is credible is not in question because that is the very premise — it is the consequences of the premise that must be treated credibly. No Country for Old Men and, again, Children of Men are the gold standard of high concept allegory working equally well on the strictly non-metaphorical level.

Blindness shows a few glimpses of promise but it is mostly a failed opportunity: a fertile premise restricted to microcosmic allegory and unhinged from narrative. If you find yourself driving to the theater to see Blindness, just drive on past and pick up Children of Men instead which came out on Blu-ray today. Not only was it the best film of 2006 but it’s the best Christmas movie ever (not to be watched with children though)!