PIFF review: ‘OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies’

The French have an uncanny ability to be over the top, even obvious, and subtle at the same time. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, is their answer to Austin Powers and is playing February 15th and 16th at the Portland International Film Fest.

The bumbling secret agent, Hubert Bonisseu de La Bath, is both laughed at and adored, romances women and disgusts them, revels in homoerotic friendship and disavows it. And at the center of it all, a deadly game of paddle ball.

The plot is convoluted. Huburt is sent to Egypt to investigate the death of a former spying colleague who he remembers quite fondly through a sequence of beach scenes where they frolic in the waves together and play paddle ball in the sand.

Once in Egypt he is aided by the beautiful Larmina who begrudgingly puts up with his arrogant cultural imperialism as she sets him up with a cover job as a chicken farmer. Her father, a brave freedom fighter was killed in an unfortunate paddle ball incident overlooking the Suez Canal.

But all of this is largely irrelevant as Hubert gets into one troubling incident after another, trapped in between 2 governments, the radical Eagles of Kheops brotherhood, and the former royal family. This back and forth pull manifests most comically when the intelligent Larmina and the brazen Egyptian Princess come to hair pulling, clothes tearing, blows and Hubert forgoes shooting in favor of watching the show.

Shot in beautifully grainy toned down hues that compliment the 50s decor, OSS 117 is just plain fun to watch. It may not have the same level of gross out humor that its American counterpart counts on for laughs, but no one is safe from its scoffing. In a classic scene aimed at, perhaps, the French themselves, Western Colonial Powers in general, or even Americans, as the current kings of imperialism, Hubert and his boss pat themselves on the back for bringing peace to the middle east. Because the people of Egypt loved Hubert so much and he was so culturally proficient (sic) his next assignment will take him to Iran…

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