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.