Mossad Agent in a Bustier

In ‘OSS: 117,’ Nazi Hunters in All Their Deliberately Idiotic Glory

By Jordana Horn

Published May 05, 2010, issue of May 14, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Thirteen years ago, when you saw the first “Austin Powers” movie, you may have exited the theater feeling somewhat unsatisfied at the film’s conclusion. If only, you thought with a sigh, the film had been about a wacky French secret agent hunting Nazis in Brazil in the 1960s! Maybe, you fantasized, he could even team up with a hot Israeli Mossad agent — and ideally, she’d be wearing go-go boots.

Dangerous Liaisons: Jean
Dujardin and Louise Monot play a
French secret agent and a member
of the Mossad, respectively.
music box films
Dangerous Liaisons: Jean Dujardin and Louise Monot play a French secret agent and a member of the Mossad, respectively.

I am pleased to be the one to tell you that your long wait is finally over. “OSS 117: Lost in Rio,” which opens in New York and Los Angeles on May 7, is a film from France that makes all of these dreams become realities. Obviously, I (at least partially) jest; after all, like most viewers out of the clutches of puberty, you probably thought “Austin Powers” was amusing at best, and at worst, plain silly. So, too, this film, daubed with a smudge of antisemitism that you don’t know whether to label as completely jokey or 5% serious. But hey — it’s in French. And the clothes are great, to say nothing of the hairstyles.

The film’s protagonist, the French secret agent Hubert Bonniseur de la Bath, played to the hilt by Jean Dujardin, is an unapologetically politically incorrect moron. Like many secret agents (at least in film), he remains blissfully unaware of his bumbling ineptitude. When he is told that he is being sent to Brazil to locate a microfilm list of French collaborators with the Nazis, he responds that it must be on “micro” film because such a list must be quite tiny. If you are amused by these kinds of jokes, this movie is pour toi.

Brazil of 1967 is a Technicolor blaze of short skirts, push-up bikinis and polyester suits. Hubert arrives in sun-soaked Brazil within minutes of the film’s start, and is promptly followed from the airport by two Mossad agents, one large-breasted hottie of a Nazi henchwoman in a tightly wrapped overcoat and one American CIA agent named Bill Trumendous, played by Ken Samuels. Trumendous saves Hubert from imminent disaster (hey, isn’t that what we Americans do for the French?), but whose side is he really on? Suspense! Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter, because you’ve got to love Samuels’s horrific American-accented French and his interpolations of English profanity.

After a brief, incomplete tryst with “Carlotta,” the aforementioned hottie, Hubert finds himself saved from disaster again, this time by the Mossad. The two agents bring him to an architecturally intriguing safe house and inform him that while he needs the microfilm, they need the Nazi who holds it, the dreaded Von Zimmel. So they should work together! Enter Dolorès (Louise Monot), the Israeli Mossad hottie who apparently had no baggage allowance limiting the number of pairs of go-go boots she could bring to Brazil. Also, I’ll venture by the length of her skirts that she is not particularly religious.

The ensuing attempts to track down the Nazi lead to Hubert-inspired idiocy (that is, going to the German Embassy and asking for a copy of its Nazi alumni network mailing list). While Dolorès is all business, Hubert is all bumbling idiot. Wacky high jinks result, including a waterfront orgy with the hippie friends of Von Zimmel’s son, who has disavowed his father’s ideology — or has he? Suspense!

As my tone may suggest, this film is deliberately idiotic and should not be taken seriously on any level. And if you go in with the “Austin Powers” mindset, it can be a highly enjoyable experience (then again, full disclosure: I’m a sucker for 1960s fashions, samba, bossa nova and go-go boots). I’ll admit that I’m still chuckling while simply recalling one particular throwaway bit of stupidity involving a crocodile and, subsequently, a duck-shaped paddleboat.

That being said, the casual banter of Hubert’s idiotic antisemitism — insinuations that Jews are particularly good with money, for example, or curiously clannish — might sound sour to an American Jew watching the film. France, after all, is the place where 832 antisemitic acts were recorded in 2009. Oh, did I mention there’s sophomoric misogyny galore, too? Something for everyone! “I just don’t understand a religion that doesn’t let you eat sausages,” Hubert says to Dolores in one failed attempt to seduce her. Do you get it? It’s a double entendre!

Yeah, I get it — even though I’m a Jewish woman (double whammy!), I get it. All these comments are intended for mitigation by Hubert’s obvious stupidity and egregiously misplaced self-confidence, but nonetheless, we humorless and unsophisticated Americans have got to wonder. It’s easy to laugh at this film stateside, in other words, but it’s much more enjoyable if you don’t attempt to imagine how it would play to a French audience — and which parts those French viewers would find funny. Sacré bleu!

Jordana Horn is a lawyer and a writer at work on her first novel.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.