The Odyssey

Fortean Times - - Reviews/Films - Daniel King

Dir Jérôme Salle, France 2016 On UK re­lease from 18 Au­gust

For those who don’t know, and that prob­a­bly means any­one un­der 40, Jacques Cousteau was a house­hold name in the 1970s for be­ing the world’s fore­most un­der­sea ex­plorer. Nowa­days, the sea is chock full of them, be they the sub­mersible types who plumb the deep­est depths, or BBC wildlife cam­era­men look­ing for footage for the next doc­u­men­tary. Back then, though, Cousteau was the main man, world fa­mous for his un­der­wa­ter ex­ploits, the Os­car-win­ning films which doc­u­mented them and, it must be said, his canny self-pro­mo­tion. Should you want to know a lit­tle bit more about the man be­hind the gog­gles then The Odyssey is the film for you.

It be­gins in 1949 with Cousteau (Lam­bert Wil­son) in his late 30s. He’s just in­vented the aqualung and is us­ing it to ex­plore the sea near his home in the south of France. His wife Si­mone (Au­drey Ta­tou) and two sons Philippe and Jean-Michel soon learn to use the equip­ment too, and we see achingly beau­ti­ful se­quences of them swim­ming to­gether in the Mediter­ranean. Pretty soon, Jacques re­alises that he can turn his hobby into a ca­reer and grad­u­ally gath­ers suf­fi­cient funds and spon­sor­ship to fit out his own boat – the Ca­lypso – which he uses to travel the world mak­ing films about his deep sea ad­ven­tures and scout­ing pos­si­ble off­shore drilling lo­ca­tions for oil com­pa­nies. So suc­cess­ful is he that just be­ing Cousteau be­comes a global in­dus­try and he be­gins to drift away from the ide­al­ism of his first for­ays un­der the sea. Quick to pick up on this is favoured son Philippe (Pierre Niney) who starts to find all the

brand­ing – Cousteau’s team all have to wear red beanie hats for the cam­eras – and ex­ploita­tion of the marine en­vi­ron­ment at odds with his own feel­ings about ecol­ogy. This leads to con­flict and even­tu­ally es­trange­ment. At the same time, Si­mone be­gins to learn about the ex­tent of her hus­band’s in­ter­na­tional-class phi­lan­der­ing. Thus the pat­tern is set: the film cov­ers not only un­der­wa­ter go­ings on, but also seeks to ex­am­ine Cousteau the man through his re­la­tion­ship with his fam­ily.

As you’d ex­pect – and in­deed might de­mand – from a film such as this, the un­der­wa­ter photography is just about the best you’re ever likely to see, al­most dream­like in its beauty. The land-based stuff can’t hope to com­pete with it and the com­bi­na­tion of board­room se­quences, as Cousteau ne­go­ti­ates film and TV deals, and squab­bles be­tween hus­band and wife are not ter­ri­bly in­ter­est­ing. The act­ing saves it though: Lam­bert Wil­son, prob­a­bly best known from the Ma­trix tril­ogy, is ter­rific as Cousteau, full of charm, charisma and self-ob­ses­sion, and Pierre Niney makes for a de­cent foil as the ide­al­is­tic prodi­gal son. Au­drey Ta­tou has lit­tle to do other than age grace­fully and snipe at her hus­band for his in­fi­deli­ties; ev­i­dently there were a lot.

Over­all it’s a cu­ri­ously old-fash­ioned film, a 50s-style biopic that doesn’t tell you a huge amount about its sub­ject. A per­fectly watch­able but ul­ti­mately un­re­mark­able movie.

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