“OSS 117: Lost In Rio”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


This second in the “OSS 117” series of spy spoofs is so glancing in its approach that its surreality sneaks up on you. Certain bits — a riverbank interlude involving the spit-roasting of a rubber crocodile, a hippie beach party with homoerotic overtones — are as casually off-kilter as anything in Woody Allen’s “Bananas.”

The plot centers on French intelligence agent 117, played by Jean Dujardin, who travels to ’60s Rio to meet with a former Nazi named Von Zimmel. The French government wants 117 to bribe Von Zimmel and thereby prevent him from releasing the names of wartime collaborators. (The list is so extensive that its dissemination risks implicating large swathes of the French ruling class.) When 117 arrives in Brazil he discovers that Mossad is after Von Zimmel too; they want to try him for crimes against humanity. 117 is shocked. How, he wonders, can the Israelis hope to sneak up on the Nazi when he’s sure to recognize them by their noses? Besides, shouldn’t Jews and Nazis be striving for reconciliation? Much of the humor in “Lost In Rio” pivots on 117’s blithely anachronistic attitudes regarding race, women, and politics. This may be reason enough to recommend it. What’s the last movie to have fun with Nazis?

Director Michael Hazanavicius and cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman give the picture a bright, clean look that evokes both the techno-optimism of the Atomic Age and the candied decadence of ’60s commercialism. You can sense the world tilting out of one era and sliding into the next. (The production design is by Maamar Ech-Cheikh.) Though the series seems inspired by Austin Powers, it’s free of the crassness and aggressiveness of the Myers films. Instead, Hazanavicius finds inspiration in the tonic coolness of the secret-agent archetype. Though he’s making a spoof, he takes the spirit of the spy film seriously — enough to make 117 a figure of considerable dash and charm, despite his chronic cluelessness.

Hazanavicius has the right actor in Dujardin. A nimble performer whose face is like a Rorschach of various matinée idols, the actor combines bravado with a self-awareness that makes him seem as though he’s constantly taking stock of himself. (The juxtaposition of Dujardin’s awareness and 117’s denseness is largely responsible for the movie’s winking sense of knowingness.) And Dujardin is a wonderful comic focal point: He draws you into every gag with an ease that’s like a kind of grace. It’s a grace you can feel throughout the performance. When 117 attends a costume ball disguised as Robin Hood, the actor is the image of Douglas Fairbanks, not just physically, but spiritually, symbolically. You understand at that point why Hazanavicius and Dujardin made “The Artist.” The gag-strung-on-gag structure of “Lost In Rio” sags after a while. Dujardin keeps it off the ground. 


  • The movie and its predecessor, “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies,” are available on Netflix Instant.
  • Here’s the movie’s trailer:

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
This entry was posted in Movies, Performers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to “OSS 117: Lost In Rio”

  1. Toddy Cat says:

    Looks like a great movie. I can remeber that era, and it looks like they got it right.


  2. agnostic says:

    That shot looks like something out of The Parallax View. Glad to see something retro that has style, like the original, rather than just on-the-nose visual references a la Austin Powers.


    • Toddy Cat says:

      Agreed. And as we have seen recently, there’s a lot more to “period” pieces than just getting the look right. How many movies and TV shows have you seen recently set in the past that got the “look” almost perfect, but then featured characters with utterly anachronistic attitudes?


      • agnostic says:

        At best, it’s a kind of cosplay or cargo cult behavior — good intentions, at least. But it can also take the form of blackface, mocking how ridiculous the time, place, and people were.

        The ’60s and early ’70s inspire the cargo cult crowd, while the late ’70s and ’80s unfortunately inspire the blackface crowd (it was a more intense period). It has to be loud, neon, and gay. Except when you look at pictures, home movies, or mass media of the time, hardly anyone was wearing neon, let alone so loudly.

        The Anchorman movies are the clearest example. It’s a non-stop duck-face shout-athon from the 21st century, with characters in wacky tacky ’70s clothing. Har har!


      • agnostic says:

        Dazed and Confused did the Seventies much better, because the zeitgeist of ’93 was not so out of touch with ’76.

        Fast forward 20 more years, though… it would be impossible for folks to even halfway genuinely recreate something carefree like Three’s Company.


  3. Toddy Cat says:

    Yeah, the 1970’s were scary, tacky, and somewhat obnoxious, but there were also fun, wacky, and artistically rich (compared to today, at least). The late 1970’s are a particularly misunderstood time. They are certainly easy to make fun of, and a lot of things from that time deserve it, but still, a lot of the music holds up pretty well, the girls were mostly pretty and feminine, and race relations were, if no better, at least more honest – it’s hard to imaging James Brown or Ike Turner whining about “microagressions”. As noted, the 1970’s were not a particularly good decade for America, but they had their moments, and they deserve better from Hollywood than “Anchorman”. “American Hustle” was actually better than I expected, although once again, the “look” was better than the “feel”.


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