OSS 117: LOST IN RIO - DVD review

If you're into Cold War spy movies (spoofs, especially), you have to see OSS 117: Lost in Rio. It's laugh-out-loud funny.

James Plath's picture

If you're a fan of James Bond, you have to see OSS 117 in action.

Who, you may ask?

Exactly. I hadn't heard of him either, but the Cold War secret agent from France debuted in fiction in 1949 . . . four years before Ian Fleming published his first James Bond novel. OSS 117's creator, Jean Bruce, penned 91 books in the series, and after he died his wife wrote even more of them, and following her death their children took over the family spy-novel business. Several of the novels were made into films after Fleming's "Dr. No" played in France back in the early 1960s, but poor OSS 117 never became the film franchise that his British counterpart did. Then in 2006 director Michel Hazanavicius tried again with "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies," and Jean Dujardin brought just the right tone to the character of Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, a.k.a. OSS 117. He's as suave as Bond, but a comic character nonetheless. OSS 117 isn't as clumsy as Inspector Clousseau, nor as clueless and over-the-top as Austin Powers, nor as bumbling as Maxwell Smart.

OSS 117 comes closer, in fact, to Derek Flint. But while the humor in the Flint movies derived from Flint's know-it-all, do-it-all resourcefulness and over-the-top gadgets, OSS 117 is a laugh-out loud riot because he's politically incorrect, and he guffaws at those who would disagree with him over what he thinks are simple truths. Many of those "truths" are ethnic stereotypes, and Jews take a bashing in this installment--though the audience is on the side of the targets of humor, much as they were with TV's Archie Bunker.

All I know is, I laughed out loud as I watched "OSS 117: Lost in Rio" and kept thinking, Why haven't I heard about this series before? You can bet I'll pick up a copy of the first film to watch, because this is funny stuff. That punning Bond loves to do? I'm not sure if Fleming got the idea from Bruce, but it's here too. Same with the overall look and manner of the movie James Bond, as originally played by Sean Connery. OSS 117 comes off like a Bond spoof, and a funny one at that. 007 had a CIA contact named Felix Leiter, and OSS 117 (who has to keep correcting people who get his name-number wrong) has a CIA contact who spouts vulgarity with the cheerful innocence of someone with Tourette's syndrome. Bond had a "Bond girl" to "partner" with, and in this film de La Bath has to work with a female Israeli agent he mistakes for a secretary (because who ever heard of a woman agent?). So you can add sexism to the cheerfully clueless moral repertoire of OSS 117, who has a post-war psyche in a postmodern world. It all works, and partly that's because his outdated attitudes are delivered in a film that itself looks dated. Somehow--through careful color manipulation and the use of such retro film elements as backgrounds that were obviously movies projected--the use of the filmmakers were able to make "OSS 117: Lost in Rio" look as if it were shot during the 1960s, and that certainly helps facilitate the cheeky tone. In fact, it's probably the overuse of such techniques that adds to the comedy. Case in point: the 1960s were a decade in which filmmakers discovered the split screen, but Hazanavicius takes it so far that the picture likes like it's undergoing mitosis.

OSS 117 himself is a cheerful anachronism. Set in 1967, "Lost in Rio" gives him the chance to strut his ignorance of the changing post-war socio-political map and take digs at the "hippies" that are suddenly everywhere, one of whom is actually the son of the hunted Nazi Doktor Von Zimmel (Rudiger Vogler). And one scene feels like it's straight out of "Easy Rider," with a little sexual confusion thrown in for comic measure.

As for plot, the exaggerated Bond heroes are here, as well as the cliffhanger moments and a climactic scene that will have movie fans recalling the Mount Rushmore segment from Hitchcock's "North by Northwest." In Rio, there are as many Nazis as there are favelas, and, partnered with Mossad agent Dolores (Louise Monot), OSS 117 must sniff out a former top-Nazi and also recover a sensitive list of Frenchmen who collaborated with the Nazis.

I could well imagine a film like this flopping, cinematic techniques and clever writing and all, if it weren't for Dujardin's deft handling of a character who could have come off as a buffoon or a snob in less capable hands. But Dujardin's OSS 117 is an infectiously likable character. As a result, whatever lack of political correctness he has, we're apt to forgive. In some shots, Dujardin so resembles Connery-as-Bond that you have to suspect it's a major reason why he was selected.

Word has it that "Nest of Spies" is a better movie. And since "Lost in Rio" is as entertaining as it is--I really did laugh out loud a number of times--I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

"Lost in Rio" has a running time of 97 minutes, and though it's unrated there's nudity (both female frontal and male buttocks) and cheerful violence.

"OSS 117: Lost in Rio" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the picture has the kind of film grain you'd expect from a 1960s picture. Same with the colors. The filmmakers do a superb job of taking a 2009 film and turning it into a Sixties' relic.

The audio options are a French Dolby Digital 5.1 or, if you really want the Sixties' experience, a French Dolby Digital 2.0. Subtitles are in English only, and the default is for them to play automatically. As for sound quality, like the picture it's solid, though not spectacular.

The theatrical trailer is here, along with previews to four other Music Box films (though, surprisingly, not "Nest of Spies"). But the main extra is a 24-minute making-of feature that's as good as these get. Not only do we run the full gamut of behind-the-scenes filmmaking-from tracking dollies to stunt choreography--but we also get on-set joking. Some making-of features depend on talking heads, but this one maintains an uncommon energy by just keeping the cameras rolling and running with voiceovers, mostly. It's one of the best I've seen.

Bottom Line:
If you're into Cold War spy movies (spoofs, especially), you have to see "OSS 117: Lost in Rio." It's laugh-out-loud funny.


Film Value