It seems strange that a biopic about Jacques Yves Cousteau – explorer, researcher, filmmaker and later conservationist – would be named after an epic Greek poem. The film does cover a few decades of Cousteau’s life and career as well as his youngest son Philippe’s life, but the film is less of an epic journey and more about the sometimes strained relationship Cousteau had with his family, his work and trying to find the funds for his expeditions.
Jacques Yves Cousteau is naval officer, a keen diver and family man. When he decides to leave the Navy to pursue a life of exploration, everything changes for him and his family, both positively and negatively. Buying his famous boat, the Calypso, it becomes his devoted wife’s Simone’s sanctuary through many voyages. Eventually Cousteau’s sons, Jean-Michel and beloved youngest Philippe join the crew and business. Philippe, taking after his father with a thirst for adventure and as cameraman for many of the films produced, a eye for the sublime, he becomes an important part of the team. But as father and son see the world in a different way, they drift apart. Jacques’ taking advantage of fame, his affairs and over spreading drive the company into debt and Philippe breaks out on his own making, wanting to save the environment. A voyage to the Artic brings father and son together and a new hope to the films made, as well as a new outlook for Jacques who becomes a conservationist. He and Philippe give lectures about saving the environment and start to see eye to eye on the way things should be, but tragedy is just a plane ride away.
There is no doubt that Cousteau’s films made beneath the waves were inspirational and fascinating to watch, but the film explores what went on behind the cameras. The film focuses on Jacques and Philippe and their exploits and their relationship, cutting out Jean-Michel and Simone, an explorer in her own right, who became the first female aquanaut in 1963. Although Lambert Wilson cuts a striking and at times intimidating figure as Cousteau and Pierre Niney is a wonderful contrast in character to Wilson, it is Audrey Tautou who is tragically under used. Stuck playing the ‘wife’ role, Simone is not given enough, apart from wallowing around the Calypso drinking. Simone should have her own film so she isn’t stuck in the shadow. However, this is the Jacques, falling prey to the stereotypical temptations of fame.
Its is difficult not to mention the striking resemblance to Wes Anderson’s 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Of course Anderson’s film was heavily influenced by Cousteau’s life and films, even having the crew all wear red hats, and not mention life milestones and habits. These two films would make an excellent pairing as a double feature.
As the film only recounts a portion of Jacques Yves Cousteau’s life, focusing on the father-and-son bond, the film’s most fascinating parts are the re-enactment of footage from the films which must have been mesmerising when first broadcast. The film has an eye for beauty but not for story and ends up being just like any other biopic.
The Odyssey is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from 11th December 2017.
Dir: Jérôme Salle
Prd: Marc Missonnier, Olivier Delbosc, Nathalie Gastaldo, Philippe Godeau, Eric Vidart Loeb
Scr: Jérôme Salle, Laurent Turner
Based on: Capitaine de La Calypso by Albert Falco and Jean-Michel Cousteau
Cast: Lambert Wilson, Pierre Niney, Audrey Tautou
DoP: Matias Boucard
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Country: France, Belgium
Running Time: 122 minutes