Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, France's answer to James Bond, is dispatched to Egypt during the 1955 Suez Crisis. Unfortunately, agent OSS 117 is a clueless, insensitive blockhead, but his good looks, charm and sheer dumb luck keep his superiors in Paris from realizing just how spectacularly incompetent their man in Cairo really is. OSS 117; Cairo Nest of Spies is a loving if skewered parody of the Eurospy genre, with lavish attention to period detail; the film has a 75 percent score at Rotten Tomatoes.
Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale is a holiday film that’s not really about the holidays. Henri, played by Mathieu Amalric, is a bit of a black sheep and has been banished from his family for several years. When the matriarch of the clan is diagnosed as gravely ill and in need of a bone marrow transplant, the only compatible donor may turn out to be...Henri. A Christmas reunion offers an opportunity for reconciliation, but there are issues to resolve, and boy, does this family have issues. A Christmas Tale also features some excellent performances by the legendary Catherine Deneuve as the mother and Emmanuelle Devos in the role of an unexpected guest who rolls with the punches as best she can. The film has an 84 percent score on Metacritic and appeared on many top 10 lists (152 minutes, in French with English subtitles).
By the early 1920s, Igor Stravinsky had a problem. He had a large family, little income and his homeland was in shambles. Fortunately he had a benefactor in Coco Chanel, famous for her haute couture (but not yet for her perfume). This little known connection, which became very close and had unexpected consequences, has been made into a film now out on DVD. Conveniently, Chanel's earlier life was recently explored in another recent movie, Coco Before Chanel, starring a different actress, Audrey Tautou.
There is some intriguing speculation in Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky as to how the two creative geniuses may have encouraged one another, but the real reason to see this film is the stunning recreation of the debut performance of the Rite of Spring and the uproar which ensued. Music and dance were never the same again.
You can see a clip of the dance scene from the film at the film's French language site (just click on videos) or download a podcast of a recent discussion of a new book, Dreaming of Chanel, from Radio National. You can also listen to a recording of Stravinsky conducting his work at the Internet Archive.