Although, rather than doling out a generic retread of Cold War ethos with hyperbolic scenarios, or regurgitating broad comic tropes of the Austin Powers variety, Hazanavicius stepped back to criticize and, in part, analyze the times, as well as the genre and the absurdity of it all.
In Lost in Rio, the inept, Maxwell Smart-like French spy, OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin), is assigned the task of travelling to South America with an attractive undercover Israeli agent (Louise Monot) to capture and try a Nazi war criminal. And to get a sense of the sort of comedy demonstrated, 117 responds to the news that he's going to track down a Nazi with a Jew by laughing and pointing out that the criminal would surely be alerted to his captor by the size of their nose, later pointing out that he didn't trust his Jewish allies with a briefcase full of money.
While this could easily be interpreted as childish and broad racial stereotyping for the purpose of cheap laughs, Lost in Rio is careful to use its ignorant, unintentionally racist, protagonist as a vessel for assessing the guiding ideology of the time and the sort of commonplace offensiveness that was once standard for the genre. In fact, its 117's guilelessness and stupidity that directs the comedy of the movie, with him mocking hippies about their idealism and routinely expecting his female partner to cook and perform passivity.
It's the acute attention to details about the time period, the filmmaking style and the many dominant political theories of the late '60s that make this potentially throwaway comedy more intriguing and engaging than it should be. And considering that the French aren't really known for making good comedies, this weirdly low-key and straightforward time capsule of a film works as a bit of an anomaly, serving up genuine laughs and cultural critiques with equal aplomb.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Beyond Bond Series on Friday, November 16th at 9pm. (TVA)