OSS 117 From Africa With Love (15)         French Film Festival

OSS 117 is the codename for Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, a secret agent created by Jean Bruce (a good 4 years before Ian Fleming came up with 007 James Bond) and whose adventures continued after Bruce’s untimely death thanks to the efforts of his family – a series that stretches, I think, to around 350 books.

What we have here is a parody than a straight up action adventure, and while it pulls few punches on the subject of colonialism, it wends an uneasy path between thriller and satire.

Nicolas Bedos has taken over directorial duties from Michel Hazanavicius, who helmed the two previous outings for de la Bath, but does not seem totally at home with the material. Jean Dujardin, on the other hand, perfectly embodies the handsome, charming and, I quote “self-important, politically incorrect dimwit” who, as the publicity says, might just be the luckiest idiot alive. Not least because, in addition to surviving one potentially lethal escapade after another while seemingly unaware of what is occurring around him, he appears to be irresistible to every attractive woman in sight.

Sent to an unnamed African country to track down an operative who has lost contact with the office, but in fact has gone undercover to infiltrate a gang of gun runners, Hubert finds him and quickly manages to blow his cover. The two form an uneasy alliance, and successfully blow up the hoard of arms that was meant for the rebel forces.

While times have obviously changed in the forty years that have passed since the era in which the film is set, there is a heavy-handedness to the depiction of words and deeds that detracts from the potential to see humour in the situations.

Hubert’s indifference to the lives of those around him is one of the sticking points here – while he pours over a map, his colleague ignores advice not to go too near the river and is seized by a crocodile. Hubert’s response to this is merely to fold up the map and drive off. He later informs the President that the leader of the rebels is, in fact, his wife (with whom Hubert has just spent the night) and as she is dragged off to be tortured and executed he dismisses her as a “hysterical woman”. Even in those days, these reactions are not convincing.

Perhaps it is just that the humour does not translate, but for me this was a disappointment.

Jim Welsh

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