Tuesday, June 30, 2009

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (Le Caire nid d’espions)

OSS 117 is a French secret agent, with the wonderfully absurd name of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, who is the central character of an astonishing number of French spy novels cranked out by Jean Bruce (91 books), his widow Josette (143 books) and two of her children (24 books). The family must have owned a magical sausage-making/novel-writing machine. The first book came out in 1949 and a series of films based on the books was made in the 50s and 60s. (Thank you Wikipedia.)

When a group of French filmmakers decided to reanimate Agent OSS 117 in 2006, they brought him back to make fun of him, and they succeeded. Although they don’t cop to it in the DVD extras, they had to have seen Don Adams in the “Get Smart” TV shows, since OSS 117 exhibits the same level of totally unjustified self regard as Maxwell Smart. The 2008 film version of “Get Smart” got rather mixed reviews from the critics, so if you’re hankering for idiot spies go directly to OSS 117.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tell No One

This French thriller (in French, “Ne le dis à personne”) was one of the few films Mme Le Chef and I saw in a theater last year and we enjoyed it very much. We recently watched it again on DVD and it wasn’t diminished in any way. We were amused that after two viewings we still couldn’t follow every twist and turn in the plot, but that doesn’t matter.

The film is by Guillaume Canet and is based on an American novel by Harlan Corben. It’s peopled with well delineated characters who are played by an excellent cast. Our hero, the beleaguered Dr. Beck, is played by François Cluzet, who bears an unfortunate resemblance to a young Dustin Hoffman, but is a good enough to make us forget that. The other main male actors are also excellent but the actresses are amazing.

In one film you get both Kristin Scott Thomas and Natalie Baye in supporting roles. These are two of the best actresses on the planet. You also get the delicious Marie-Josée Croze and, in a small role, an unknown actress named Mikaela Fisher. She’s on screen for maybe five minutes and establishes one of the scariest villains I’ve seen in a long time. The actress is freaky looking; skinny, wiry, elongated, androgynous. I can’t tell if it’s really good type casting or good acting but her character is one of things you’ll surely remember about the film.

Intelligent, entertaining thrillers are far rarer then they should be, so if you haven’t seen “Tell No One”, put it on your Netflix queue (svp).