Let me preface this controversial topic by saying that I love all I’ve seen from Jean Dujardin. In The Artist he was charismatic, inspiring and emitted a good mood from every part of that devilish smile.
I’ll get to the rest later.
Before Michel Hazanavicius, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo made the Oscar-winning film The Artist, the trio worked on 2006’s OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. Yeah, it’s France’s answer to James Bond – except not exactly.
Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath – or OSS 117 (Dujardin) hasn’t got a damn clue. He’s a womanizer, sexist, borderline racist, ignorant, ethnocentric and an all-around miserable spy “hero.” But on the other hand he’s charming, handsome, effective and has an incredible smile.
It’s that same smile he introduced to American audiences in The Artist. I repeat myself when I say that while good, that film certainly wasn’t the best of the year and wouldn’t have been on any radars had it been another Hazanavicius/Dujardin collaboration that required film-goers to read subtitles. We just can’t be having that.
Hazanavicius and Dujardin made a sequel to their excellent spy spoof in 2009 – OSS 117: Lost in Rio. This, like its predecessor, had me nearly dying of laughter. Both films are so self-aware and so bursting with humor that they survive among decades worth of similar spoof films. And while it has as much of Ian Fleming’s James Bond inside of it, I like to think it also plays off of anti-spoofs, like Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik.
Fans of recent blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite would really eat this one up. It plays on the nuances of the spy film and makes fun of little, tiny and specifically detailed items like a spy always knowing who he’s going to be secretly meeting, always perfectly understanding of the situation and so on. Dujardin is the perfect actor for a Bond spoof. His ability to play the humorous side of the role is what really reigns supreme, even though he perfectly captures the sex symbol that Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Connery and others did playing a true, honest and serious spy in Bond films.
But for as increasingly successful Dujardin was in both OSS 117 films, the more I couldn’t help but question myself about the best actor award he received at least weekends Oscars ceremony. Gary Oldman, one of best, most beloved and most accomplished actors of the last two decades was up against Dujardin. It was Oldman’s first best actor nomination and it was for what was perhaps his best and most restrained performance of his career in Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Oldman was almost perfect and stacked against Dujardin’s singular performance in The Artist absolutely prevails in every scenario.
This isn’t to take away from Dujardin’s work in The Artist. He was wonderful, terrific and contributed to yet another pleasurable and overall joyful Hazanavicius film. Like The Artist, both OSS 117 films show Hazanavicius paying tribute to cinema he loves. These last three films of his aren’t paying tribute to culture in general, but likely the cinema culture he grew up loving. That shows in both. OSS 117 is poignant, self-aware and knowledgeable. It’s fair to say only a film geek could make something this spot on and this side-splitting.
The OSS 117 series is covered in funny. But I also think it works against Dujardin’s favor in truly analyzing his performance in The Artist. His personality is almost indistinguishable between the films. I didn’t feel like I was watching a different person play spy and play silent film star. That is unfortunate. But what I did love was the result of all his work I’ve seen. I do think in the long run that Dujardin does have great potential. Apparently he wants to begin an American movie career, which would be great. I think varied performances are inside him.
That said, OSS 117 instantly became one of my more beloved film series. I laughed more than most comedies I’ve seen in the last few years and that’s saying a lot, especially considering the depth and level of the jokes range from obvious dialogue-driven comedy to layered and repeated jokes about society and the like.
Hazanavicius created two really special films with Dujardin as his main star and then made The Artist. While that won best picture, my jury is still out on it. Either way, that’s three really special films in a row with this director/actor team leading the way. I think it’s safe to say more special things are coming soon.