Showing posts with label Berenice Bejo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Berenice Bejo. Show all posts

Monday, 5 March 2012

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

Cairo, Nest of Spies is a classic Eurospy parody written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, director of The Artist, and also stars the leads of that Oscar winner. It is in fact where Hazanavicius met his future wife, Berenice Bejo and her Artist co-star Jean Dujardin. The film is a parody of the spy films of the 1950s and 60s, most notably, early James Bond. It stars recent Oscar winner Dujardin as OSS 117, a French spy in the mould of Sean Connery’s 007 who in the words of the film ‘foils Nazis, beds beauties and brings peace to the Middle East. 117 has all the style, charm and quips of 007 but without any of the intellect or wit. The films opening scene, a homage to classic Film Noir shows 177 foiling the escape of a Nazi in 1945 along with his partner, Jefferson (Phillipe Lefebvre). Fast forward ten years after a fantastic and funny 60s Bond-esque Title Sequence and 117 is sent to Egypt where Jefferson has recently been killed. His bosses believe there may be a link to a missing Russian ship and Islamic radicals and it’s up to 117 to put the pieces together.

Michel Hazanavicius shows that The Artist’s cinematography and set design was no fluke as this film contains impressive and authentic sets and costume. At first glance it feels like you could be watching Dr. No or From Russia with Love. The film rivals Mad Men for its fantastic attention to detail and design. The background and costumes are extraordinary. The look of early Bond is added to with some great homage to those early films such as obvious rear projection cameras whenever the actors are in cars and a slightly grainy look to the finished film.

The film on the whole is in a word, hilarious. For most of its running time I had barely finished laughing about one joke or incident by the time the next one arrived. It’s spectacularly funny and very silly. There are lots of running jokes, including one involving a man in a fez calling the bad guys every time 117 enters or exits a building. This is homage to Bond in which there is invariably a henchman waiting for 007 when he reaches a new location. Another running joke is the increasingly homo-erotic flash backs to 117 and Jefferson on a beach. Much of the rest of the humour comes from Dujardin himself. He is wonderful in the film. Somehow he manages to bumble is way through fights and crime scenes, missing blatant clues and making a complete fool of himself but at the same time remaining suave and cool and irresistible to women. Dujardin has an almost identical look to Sean Connery and from certain angles it looks like you are watching Connery. He is just as smooth and has the most expressionistic eyebrows I have ever seen. Some of the humour comes from the blatant political incorrectness and misogyny which again is reminiscent of the films it is parodying. 117 also knows nothing about his surroundings claiming the Suez Canal is over 4,000 years old and confusing a woman for a Pharaohs’ niece. There are several layers to the comedy.

Dujardin is supported by a good cast which includes Aure Atika as an Egyptian Princess who finds 117 irresistible and begs him to make love to her in every scene which they share. The Artist’s Berenice Bejo is the second lead, playing the assistant of Jefferson but as so often with Bond Girl types, there is much more to her than that. She is fantastic and gorgeous and fast approaching Scarlett Johansson at the top of my ‘women I’d like to ‘meet’ list’. She is the real brains of the piece and often has to lead 117 through the clues. Bejo plays an Egyptian but looks more like a French Socialite and wears ball gowns rather than a Hijab. She looks nothing like a 1950s Egyptian woman but this fits with the early Bond pastiche in which actors were rarely from anywhere near their character’s supposed home country. The film’s baddies all look and play the part and one in particular; Richard Sammel looks like he has walked straight out of an SS Training Camp. He has also played Nazis in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and the brilliant Italian film Life is Beautiful as well as a henchman in Casino Royale so has a fitting resume.

The film contains all of the great sets, locations, costume, puns and action which make early Bond films so wonderful but adds to this a great sense of farce. The film laughs at both the ridiculousness of the genre as well as itself and contains numerous wonderful comic moments. It’s a great spy film and a great comedy. It is far superior to Austin Powers in comedy and look and without it we may not have had The Artist.      


Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Artist

Up until today I have only even see three films more than once at the cinema; Titanic (don’t judge me, it was very difficult for an eleven year old to see boobs in a pre internet age), Slumdog millionaire and Senna. The Artist is the forth.

The Artist invites us back to a time where cinema was something that one wore their best suit for and applauded at the mere mention of a stars name; a world before jumbo popcorn and cheesy nachos where cinema and its projection were an art form. The film draws you into the world of George Valentin, a silent movie star at the height of his powers. We join Valentin, who is played superbly by Jean Dujardin, as he is back stage awaiting the response to his latest picture. It is a huge success and he enjoys the crowd’s adulation after the curtain has closed. Outside, while speaking to the press, Valentin has an accidental encounter with a beautiful young woman called Peppy Miller, played by Bérénice Bejo. The film charts the rise of Miller’s career as an actress in the talkies in contrast to the free-fall of Valentin as he is stuck in a world with talking movies which he doesn’t want any part of.

I absolutely adored it when I first saw it about a month ago and found it even more enjoyable the second time around. I was able to spot the nuances that help to make the film one of my all time favourites. I could hear subtle changes in the music when a look was given and even a ‘plink’ when one character blinked. I was able to appreciate the beautiful framing of every shot and the attention to detail in each scene. I could see how a chair was placed in just such a way that it split the frame in half, showing us two characters separate emotions that, though sat very close, were worlds apart.

The use of shadow in 1922s Nosferatu
Although I’m no expert on silent cinema, I believe I have seen more silent movies that most young people, count Charlie Chaplin as my favourite film maker and Keaton’s Electric House and Hawks’ Scarface amongst my favourite films. I felt that the film totally lived up to what was great about the best silent movies. The score, so integral in a film without dialogue was perfect. It captured the mood of each scene, let us into the minds of the characters and also updated with the films progression from 1927 to 1932. The use of mirrors and shadows was reminiscent of German expressionism and Film Noir and fitted perfectly with the tone of the movie.  The script was also brilliant. While it wasn’t spoken, what you could lip read; tell in body language and read on title cards was delightful and wonderfully written. I also noticed on my second viewing the subtle uses of words like ‘talk’ and ‘silent’ in important scenes, often having nothing to do with the lead characters refusal to speak on film.

The acting of both leads was sublime. It is no wonder that both have been nominated for Oscars. Dujardin looks every inch the silent movie star. He has the face, smile and demeanour down to a tee. He has the look of Douglas Fairbanks and the confidence and swagger of Maurice Chevalier. He is absolutely wonderful in the film and I expect him to be named Best Actor later this month. Bejo is just stunning. Her beauty and grace have not been matched on screen in many years and she looks as though she has walked straight into the film from 1929. I have a huge crush, though more on her feisty yet sweet and caring character than the actress herself.

The Artist has been nominated for Best Sound as the BAFTAS, along with 11 other nominations. It may seem odd for a silent movie to be nominated for sound but I believe it should win in this category. What little ‘sound’ there is is perfectly timed and placed. A scene featuring a glass deserves the award just on its own.

It would have been easy to make a modern day silent movie by just filming in black and white and adding old swing style music to it but The Artist cuts no corners in its quest for authenticity. It is a delightful, masterpiece that will leave you tap dancing all the way home.


If you liked The Artist then try OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies from director Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.