Pierre de Villiers gives his verdict on the Cousteau biography The Odyssey.
Starring: Lambert Wilson, Pierre Niney, Audrey Tautou Director: Jérôme Salle Certificate: TBC Running time: 122 minutes Release date: 18 August
How do you condense the eventful life of someone as celebrated as Jacques-yves Cousteau into a two-hour film? If you are director Jérôme Salle, you focus on the undersea explorer’s stormy relationship with son Philippe to show the passions and demons that drove him to greatness. It is an approach that makes The Odyssey an intriguing, if rather superficial, look at a flawed French icon.
Spanning about 30 years, the film follows Cousteau (Wilson) as he goes from diving equipment pioneer to oceanographer and documentary-maker, assembling a crew and, with wife Simone (Tautou) by his side, sailing the seven seas on his ship Calypso. The Frenchman’s celebrity status causes friction with his family, in particular second son Philippe (Niney), whose own travels around the globe have made him a committed environmentalist.
While Cousteau’s contribution to making us appreciate our planet comes across loud and clear in Salle’s film, it is his shortcomings as a husband and a father that are more interesting. Scenes where he is confronted over his infidelity or selfishness by his wife and son feature some fine work by the three lead actors.
This being a movie about deep-sea exploration, The Odyssey looks absolutely beautiful, with underwater footage of divers gliding around the big blue showing nature in all its glory and driving home the movie’s conservation message. While The Odyssey falls short of being the ultimate character study (Cousteau’s penchant for extra-marital affairs is not covered in enough detail), this is still a well-crafted biopic about a national treasure that is well worth exploring.