Nov 3, 2010

DVD Review: OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009)

DVD Review: OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009)

OSS 117: Lost in Rio (original movie review here) is a movie that gets better with each watch. For me, it will never quite equal its predecessor, OSS 117 Cairo Nest of Spies (review here), but it certainly comes damn close, which is quite an achievement considering the first film’s unbridled creative success. And in its own right–not as a sequel–OSS 117: Lost in Rio is a hilarious comedy that rewards multiple viewings. Therefore, I’m thrilled just to have it on Region 1 DVD at all. Director Michel Hazanavicius brings lots of fun new elements to the table the second time around, drawing from a whole new pool of films to parody and homage; instead of aping the more earnest, early Sixties Bond films and the late Fifties technicolor Hitchcocks, he takes his lead this time from the late Sixties Bonds (by which point the series had already acquired a very different edge) and all the colorful imitators that had sprung up like Matt Helm and Derek Flint (not to mention the original, more serious OSS 117–particularly OSS 117: Furia à Bahia), as well as more experimental popcorn fare of the era like Harper and The Thomas Crowne Affair, from which the new film borrows a copious dose of splitscreen.

On top of that, star Jean Dujardin actually manages to outdo his first performance, slipping into the role of the obliviously out of touch secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath as comfortably as Peter Sellers in his second or third outings as Inspector Clouseau. Dujardin achieves the rare and seemingly impossible feat of actually becoming more charming even as his character spouts even more bigoted and sexist dialogue. It's Dujardin’s undeniable charm and the unflinching, childlike innocence which which he somehow manages to imbue the character that allows him to get away with more and more outrageous remarks while remaining a hero you can’t help but root for. There is never any doubt that we are not laughing with OSS 117; we are laughing at him... but we still want him to succeed.

As I said, I would have settled for any Region 1 DVD of this French comedic masterpiece as long as it had English subtitles, but fortunately Music Box’s release is a good one. The picture is stellar, accentuating Hazanavicius’s meticulous recreation of Sixties cinema, from the over-saturated color schemes down to the grain of the film and the occasional even grainier “stock footage insert.” More importantly, the subtitles are much clearer and easier to read than they were in the theater. They’re still white, but they have black outlines (I don’t think they did before), and in the dimensions of even a fairly large television set, the words show up just fine. It’s tempting to complain that we didn’t get a Blu-ray release the way France and Canada did, but honestly I don’t really care about that format enough to make a fuss. The standard definition DVD looks plenty good.

There are even a couple of special features. In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer (US version), we get a 24-minute, subtitled Making Of featurette called “OSS 117: Cavalcade à Rio” (mistranslated in the subtitles for some reason as “The Making of Rush to Rio”). It’s a slick, well put together documentary–more insightful than your typical EPK while still involving lots of clips like an EPK. I suspect, given its length, that it was conceived as a promotional tool when the movie came out, but it’s no fluff piece. Co-writers Hazanavicius and Jean-Francois Halin offer some succinct comparisons of how they’ve approached the sequel differently from its progenitor. In the first film, they point out, the whole world (of the late 1950s, in the waning days of European Colonialism) was racist and backwards; now, in the sequel (set a decade later), things have changed radically and it’s just the character, Hubert, who’s racist and backwards. Instead of being representative of his society, OSS 117 is a fish out of water, a relic of a generation whose old road is rapidly aging, surrounded by a more progressive younger generation primarily embodied by the highly capable female Mossad agent Dolores Kuleshov (Louise Monot), who OSS 117 first assumes to be a secretary.

Hazanavicius reveals that after satirizing Western views of Arab culture in the first film, the choice for the second was between Jews and blacks, and they chose Jews. (I really think he should have included Asians on his list, as they were probably the race most wronged by Eurospy movies–a fact that certainly doesn’t go ignored in OSS 117: Lost in Rio.) He shares that they knew they were walking a fine line, though, and had to be very careful when making (or rather having their lead character make) anti-Semitic jokes. “We can show a racist and make fun of him. But if we’re going to show a racist, we have to show his racist jokes.” Fortunately, they had Dujardin’s voice in mind this time around, since they were writing the sequel specifically for their original leading man, and that aided them immeasurably in concocting jokes they knew they could get away with. (Even so, they seem to have pushed the boundaries of good taste–as any proper satire ought to. At a screening I attended followed by a director Q&A, one elderly Jewish gentleman engaged Hazanavicius in a rigorous–and awkward–debate that sometimes verged on a shouting match. He wanted to know if the writers were Jewish. Hazanavicius insisted that that shouldn’t matter one bit, but eventually conceded that “I wrote it and I am Jewish, so yes.” This satisfied the old man, who then congratulated him on writing a hilarious script. Hazanavicius seemed understandably uncomfortable, and wondered if the complement came just because he was Jewish. The implication certainly seemed to be that it did.)

We’re also treated to a more technical discussion of the filmmaking process. The Director of Photography talks briefly about the challenges of creating a new look for the second film after the brilliantly retro look of the first one. They both may look retro today (Hazanavicius has claimed that his goal–in which he fully succeeded–was to create a film that were someone to catch it muted while flipping channels, they would be convinced it was from the Sixties), but they’re retro in different ways. There are subtle differences between the look of late Fifties cinema and late Sixties cinema, and the production team on OSS 117: Lost in Rio was keenly aware of them. Hazanavicius’s recipe for creating a successful Sixties look? “Just add color,” he says. "They were into that at the time." Of course he’s being glib, and while all the department heads may have had that axiom in mind, it’s clear that there was a lot more attention to detail going on from the costumes to the lighting to the acting.

Dujardin points out that acting gestures as simple as the way actors held guns in Sixties movies are cliches worthy of emulating–and this attention to detail pays off in the film itself, where such cavalier shooting from the hip (reminiscent of Sean Connery during the gypsy camp battle in From Russia With Love) is played entirely straight but generates big laughs.

Amidst all these fascinating insights from the cast and crew, we’re treated to some fun behind-the-scenes footage as well, like Dujardin goofing off on the set of his fight scene with a Nazi luchador, and the truly bizarre sight of a shirtless Mexican wrestler wearing a swastika armband dancing. There’s also some B-roll showing some of the old-school sorts of rigs the filmmakers used to recreate the look and feel of a Sixties film, like a disembodied car chassis for the actors to sit in surrounded by whirling trees “outside.” All in all, it’s an enlightening featurette on a good DVD of a truly must-have movie–all wrapped up in an irresistable cover. (Am I alone? I don't think I could turn down a movie with a secret agent, a crocodile and a Mexican wrestler on the cover–even if I didn't aleady know it was awesome!) This one belongs in every spy collection.  If you like Bond, or if you like Eurospies, and you have a sense of humor, then you need it.

Read my overview of the OSS 117 character here.
Read my review of OSS 117 se déchaîne here.
Read my review of Banco à Bangkok pour OSS 117 (aka Panic in Bangkok aka Shadow of Evil) here.
Read my review of Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117 (Fury in Brazil, aka OSS 117: Mission For a Killer) here.
Read my review of Atout coeur à Tokyo pour O.S.S. 117 (aka OSS 117: Terror in Tokyo) here.
Read my review of Pas de Roses pour OSS 117 (aka OSS 117: Murder For Sale) here.
Read my review OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espions (OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies) here.
Read my original theatrical review of OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus (OSS 117: Rio Doesn't Answer, aka OSS 117: Lost in Rio) here.

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