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Film / OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

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OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espions) is a 2006 French satirical film lampooning European spy movies, Connery-era James Bond films and the French geopolitical context of The '50s. It was directed by Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.

Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, a.k.a. OSS 117, a French secret agent, is sent to Cairo in 1955 to investigate the mysterious disappearances both of another OSS agent and a ship full of illegal weaponry. His prowess in hand-to-hand combat and seduction is matched by his bumbling stupidity and utter ignorance of the Arab World.

Based on a not-at-all satirical series of spy novels by Jean Bruce, which first inspired some non-satirical Eurospy films in The '60s. Followed by two sequels, OSS 117: Lost in Rio and OSS 117: From Africa with Love.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: Of Eurospy fiction, the original OSS film series, and James Bond.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Played for comedy. 117's fond recollections of his time with his old buddy are cartoonishly homoerotic. He also has an overly disgusted reaction to the thought of two men having sex, which suggests that he's "protesting too much." At one point he tells Larmina that her charms are almost enough for him to "switch teams," although he's talking more about joining the Eagles of Kheops.
    • Moeller the Nazi has identical homoerotic memories of his old war comrade, Von Umpsring, whom 117 killed.
  • Animated Credits Opening: Like with everything else in the film, done in a 1960s style, with abstract shapes and lines that morph into stuff that suggests James Bond-style spy fiction, like a tuxedo or a martini glass.
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: In an earlier mission, 117 is tasked with recovering a suitcase from a Nazi wanting to fly to Buenos Aires in 1945.
  • Bad Boss: Moeller.
    Moktar: I told you, you should have tied him up.
    Moeller: I told you to shut up.
  • Becoming the Mask: 117 quickly becomes more interested in raising chickens than in being a spy.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: 117 to the princess toward the end. His second shot, however...
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A vengeful Moeller says that 117 killed his friend Von Umspring, which was the Distant Prologue scene. 117 shrugs, saying "I've killed so many Nazis that I've lost track."
  • Call-Forward:
    • "Egypt will have peace for centuries to come."
    • Plantieux offers 117 a drink, mentions unrest in France's empire such as the recent fall of Dien Bien Phu, then says "Trust me, we'll persevere and keep our colonies." They didn't.
    • At the end 117, supposedly an expert on Islam and the Muslim world, is sent off to Iran. His supervisor comments about how they really love Westerners there. Just a couple of years before this time frame, the Americans and British had toppled a democratically elected goverment in Iran and installed the autocratic Shah, who was eventually overthrown in a violent and intensely anti-Western revolution in 1979.
  • Cat Fight: 117's girlfriend Larmina fights the evil princess towards the end. 117 enjoys this very much.
  • Central Theme: Buried in all the goofy satire and affectionate parody of spy movies is an anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist theme in which ignorant, idiot Europeans like 117 are shown meddling in poorer countries and making everything worse.
  • Character Tics: OSS 117 has many James Bond tics. Such as a Fascinating Eyebrow or a tendency to lean on his leg with the foot on some kind of support.
  • Character Title
  • Clothing Damage: During the Cat Fight between Larmina and the princess.
  • Cock-a-Doodle Dawn: 117's cover is a poultry business. He has way too much fun turning the light on and off and confusing the chickens in his chicken coop, who squawk every time the switch is flipped on.
  • Cringe Comedy:
    • At times when it come to sex jokes.
    • Possibly the biggest example is after 117 interrupts the muezzin (the prayer caller from atop minarets in Islam) for waking him up. Bad enough, but then he actually admits this matter-of-factly to Larima, as if telling her he'd squashed a bug that was keeping him awake.
  • Dead Partner: OSS 117 is investigating the disappearance of his partner Jack Jefferson, who's believed to have been murdered.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The film does not shy away from depicting the racism and sexism of the '50s. It does also reference the Values Dissonance of early James Bond movies and OSS 117 novels and films.
  • Distant Prologue: The opening sequence shows 117 and Jack working together in a mission in 1945 Berlin, before skipping ten years to 1955 and OSS trying to find out who killed Jack.
  • Distracted by the Sexy:
    • 117 overpowers, undresses (to her undies) and ties up a woman in the Eagles of Kheops' lair (Larmina); when he opens the door, three Mooks stop him, then stare at the barely dressed pretty woman behind him. In this case, the trope is played straight and for laugh at the beginning, but quickly subverted when one of the mooks sees 117 trying to leave by walking just in front of him, and knock the spy out.
    • Also works on 117, who is clearly enjoying the Cat Fight by the end too much to actually do something to stop it.
  • The Ditz:
    • 117 is good at fighting but not so much at thinking.
    • The Belgian (in French movies they are always ditz) chicken coop owner, when all the other coop owner are throwing Ice-Cream Koan he simply asks if they want a drink.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: 117's handgun. He can load and unload it. It has a great coefficient of penetration.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: When Larmina reminds OSS 117 that he is about to meet the "gratin cairote" (a.k.a. the upper crust of Cairo). It gets uncomfortable... and hilarious.
    Larmina: It will be above all a great occasion to meet the "gratin cairote".
    OSS 117: And not the "gratin of potatoes".
    Larmina: [death glare]
    OSS 117: Because it sounds like carrot. It is the vegetable... Because you said gratin. Like potato gratin.
    Larmina: [death glare]
    OSS 117: The "gratin of potatoes", it is a joke.
    Larmina: I'll fetch you at 7pm.
  • Dramatic Curtain Toss: Parodied; Moeller attempts this, but only manage to rip off a piece of the swatiska-adorned curtain.
  • Driving a Desk: Done deliberately as part of the homage to old Bond flicks.
  • Egypt Is Still Ancient: Not portrayed this way, but 117 incorrectly thinks it's this way due to his Global Ignorance. He talks as if Egypt is still about pyramids and Pharaohs, and thinks the Suez Canal was built by Egypt and in ancient times (which is wrong on both counts).
  • Evil Former Friend: Jack Jefferson
  • Expy: The Eagles of Kheops for the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Jean Dujardin had a lot of fun with this trope.
  • Faux Fluency: Jean Dujardin managed to sing Bambino in Arabic, after "5 or 6" phonetic lessons.
  • Going by the Matchbook: Subverted. 117 completely fails to comprehend an important clue in a matchbook, which turns out to be the name of the missing Russian ship. He also is too dumb to realize that the matchbook from a nightclub that the assassin left behind might be a clue, and Larmina has to prompt him to go there.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Both the dagger bottle and bottle as bludgeon are used during the fight in the hotel room.
  • Hair Reboot: 117 passes a hand over his bed-head and his hair is instantly styled.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Larmina, sort of. She still believes in the ideals of the Eagles of Keops, she's just willing to work with OSS 117 to overthrow their leader because he assassinated her father.
  • His Name Is...: 117's British colleague is stabbed In the Back (with a cartoonishly huge dagger) just as he's about to tell 117 something about Jack Jefferson.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • 117 recently arrived from Algeria, comes to Cairo to deal with the Suez Canal Crisis, and at the end of the movie he's heading to French Indochina. Historically, all three situations were massive disasters for France.
    • Also, OSS 117's over-the-top affection for (space-filling nonentity) French President René Coty.
  • Hollywood Darkness: All night scenes are shot on sunny days with a blue filter, in keeping with the parody of 1960s filmmaking.
  • Idiot Hero: 117 is profoundly dumb. He thinks the Suez Canal is 4000 years old, and scoffs at the idea that millions of people speak Arabic.
    • When demonstrating his Phallic Weapon, 117 says "It's called—a revolver." It's an automatic. This is even more obvious when he proceeds to work the slide.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face:
    • Pelletier is about to shoot 117, Guns Akimbo, but his guns are jammed, so he starts checking them with complete disregard for any gun safety. 117 tries to warn him, but he ends up shooting himself.
    • "Now, princess, you're going to tell me exactly what—" (shoots)
  • Innocently Insensitive: How 117 has a tendency to come across. He's not trying to be racist/intolerant of Islam, he just knows almost nothing about either Egypt (getting the completion dates of the pyramids and the Suez canal mixed up, among others) or Muslims.
  • Insistent Terminology: It is "One Hundred and Seventeen" not "One, One, Seven". Normal in the original French, in which "cent dix sept" is more natural than "un un sept".
  • Instant Expert : Played for Laughs — posing as a musician in order to spy on a suspect, the clumsy 117 reveals itself a surprisingly apt oriental-style crooner (with lute playing and singing in Arabic), leading to a frenzied musical number.
  • Insult Backfire: After 117 makes a particularly ignorant statement, his love interest remarks, "You are very French." He takes it as a compliment.
  • It's Personal: Moeller reveals that Von Umspring, the German officer that 117 kicked out of the plane in the 1945 Distant Prologue, was his best friend (and implied lover).
  • It Will Never Catch On: Hilariously inverted. Several times in the movie, 117 speaks about René Coty (French president of the era), whom he describes as a great man who will leave his mark in history. René Coty was largely forgotten in the later decades... until the release of the movie. Nowadays, Coty is mostly remembered as "this obscure French president who is referred in the OSS 117 movie and receives a wrong posthumous fame."
  • Love-Interest Traitor: Parodied with the relation between OSS 117 and the princess Al Tarouk. She tries to (litteraly) back stab him very early in the movie, he is perfectly aware that she is faking her romantic interess for him (however it is unclear if she is faking her lust for him or not) to the point he must keep her bound and gagged (with her consent) after the back stabbing attempt, but he keeps falling for her, repeatedly.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: Works even with women who are trying to kill him.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: The conversation between spies posing as livestock industrials starts as a philosophical conversation with heavy subtext about them being spies and menacing each other. But it quickly turns completely nonsensical with lots of Word Salad Philosophy, leaving the Belgian agent completely lost in the process.
  • Miserable Massage: When 117 goes to a Cairo hammam to get a massage and interrogate Soviet spy Setin there. The massage turns into torture by a big strong henchman on 117 as soon as his cover is blown, but he nonetheless manages to get the upper hand and kill Setin via Neck Snap.
  • The Mole: Larmina is working for the Eagles of Kheops, a Muslim Brotherhood-esque organization.
  • Monochrome Past: The 1945 intro, in which 117 and Jack are shown on a mission in end-of-war Berlin.
  • Neck Snap: 117 to Setine (the Soviet agent), in another joke about action movie cliches, since he makes it look about as hard as snapping one's fingers.
  • Neutral Female: As 117 battles Princess Al Farouk's man, she stands off to the side, looking concerned.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The chicken guy can't decide whether 117 is very, very stupid or very, very talented.
  • Obsessed with Food: OSS 117. And likely the whole French secret service (or France, really). OSS 117 uses food-related code sentences, makes food (bad) jokes or compares Egyptian music instruments to cheese pastries.
  • Offending a Foreign Country: During a night at an Egyptian hotel, 117 is woken up near dawn by the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Not only does he go and beat the man up, he casually mentions this as though it were an everyday occurrence. Later he meets an Egyptian official, where he demonstrates (via Condescending Compassion) his crass ignorance about anything involving the Middle East, to the point where the official has him literally thrown out of the embassy and saying that if it weren't for their respective countries being allied, 117 would be rotting in a cell. 117 is left confused at what happened and wonders if it was something he said.
  • Overly-Long Gag:
    • The way 117 chases the villain down the streets of Cairo, pausing dramatically at every single intersection to glance around, then dashing decisively off in one direction... and ultimately getting lost.
    • Also, the guy who's constantly on the phone informing his boss that 117 has arrived somewhere. To the point where he keeps doing it long after being told to stop, and his boss eventually tracks him down and murders him just so that he'll stop calling.
  • Patriotic Fervor: 117 demonstrates why this is a bad thing in diplomacy.
  • Phallic Weapon: 117's handgun. He holds in in front of his crotch while commenting on how he can load it and unload it.
  • Politically Correct History: Completely averted.
  • Post-Mortem One-Liner: 117 does a Neck Snap of the Soviet spy and says "I have to say he was a pain in the neck."
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: In the opening sequence, 117 says "Auf wiedersehen, Herr Colonel," before kicking a Nazi officer out of a plane to his death.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Subtly played for laughs — the characters speak French in an overly enunciated manner that sounds both theatrical and dated to a contemporary audience.
  • Retraux: The opening logos for the production companies (Gaumont and Mandarin Films) are done in a deliberately old-timey, black and white manner. And the film as a whole is shot to look like a 1960s cheesy spy movie. See also the horribly fake-looking model airplane used in the opening action sequence.
  • Refuge in Audacity: 117, unable to go to sleep because of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. He climbs the minaret and starts fighting the guy, knocks him out and goes back to sleep. And then tells Larmina about it the next morning.
  • Running Gag:
    • The British spy bungling the Trust Password, followed by 117 beating him up.
    • 117's hero worship of ineffectual French President René Coty, complete with him handing out pictures of Coty to random Egyptians and expecting them to be impressed.
    • 117 playing with the light switch to the chicken warehouse, which always makes the chickens start squawking when he turns it on.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Subverted. Camera pans away from 117 and his lover, to a bouquet of roses on a table — and then to a mirror showing the two thrusting at each other, fully clothed. Whereupon the camera hastily pans back to the roses.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Moktar, the Genre Savvy Mook: "You should tie him, colonel."
  • Stealth Insult: After 117 makes another stunningly ignorant comment about Islam, Larmina says "you are very—very French, in fact." He answers with a cheerful "Thank you!"
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Lampshaded. "Blah blah blah. Funny how Nazis are always the bad guys. Hello, OSS 117? We are in 1955. Can we have a second chance?"
  • Title Drop: Larmina pronounces the Cairo airport "a nest of spies."
  • Trust Password: OSS identifies his contacts by asking "How's the veal stew?" Satirized when the man he approaches at the airport actually isn't a spy, and they get into a conversation about the lunch menu.
  • Unreliable Expositor: 117's homoerotic memories of his friend Jack are a bit off; the cheeky laughter were only done by him and Jack felt so bullied that he turned against France.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Parodied. At the end of the movie, 117 is clearly more interested in watching the dramatic fireworks than kissing.
  • Video Credits