Boston Herald

‘Becoming Cousteau’ takes deep dive into oceanograp­her’s message


Was there a more accomplish­ed citizen of the 20th century than Jacques Cousteau? He was another Da Vinci. A diver, inventor, explorer, filmmaker, environmen­talist, prophet and humanitari­an, the French oceanograp­her is the subject of the intimate, wartsand-all documentar­y “Becoming Cousteau” from Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus (“The Farm: Angola, U.S.A.”).

Both Cousteau himself and French actor Vincent Cassel provide narration for the film. Garbus was given access to an enormous amount of archival footage by the Cousteau estate. The result is a virtual resurrecti­on of Cousteau, who died in 1997 and left the world with a warning about warming oceans.

Born in 1910, Cousteau was a pilot in the Naval Academy when he suffered a bone-shattering auto accident. Swimming was therapy at first. But along with two friends in Toulon, France, he began to dive and co-invented the regulator that makes it possible to go to deeper depths than ever before.

In opening scenes, Cousteau muses about how the Aqua Lung turned him into an “archangel,” liberating him from gravity. He marries Simone Melchior. They have two children, Philippe and Jean-Michel. After World War II, the children are sent to boarding schools and neglected, while Jacques and Simone sail the seas aboard the Calypso, a World War II minesweepe­r Cousteau buys for a modest sum, renovates with the help of a crew of self-described misfits and sails the world, using money he earns from oil companies performing experiment­s in underwater mining, which was not known to be harmful at the time.

Cousteau also films his exploits in marine biology and underwater exploratio­n, using cameras he also invents. The results are cobbled into an eye-opening Technicolo­r film with the help of future director Louis Malle titled “The Silent World.” It wins the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1956. In 1966, the Emmy Award-winning show “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” hosted by Cousteau and narrated by Rod Serling, airs on ABC for 10 years. Many of Cousteau’s films showcase enormous, ravenous sharks. Cousteau’s dire warnings about the disappeara­nce of reefs and pollution of the seas help give birth to Green Peace, Earth Day and the Cousteau Society.

The adult, favored son Philippe, who is a pilot, is killed in a plane crash, visibly aging his grieving father. ABC drops Cousteau when his show gets “too dark.” We learn that Cousteau has an open secret, second family with a younger woman and two additional children. After Simone dies of cancer, Cousteau marries the younger woman, and we are reminded that “he’s not done yet.” Cousteau hosts an Earth Summit in 1992 with scores of world leaders, explaining the dangers of climate change and rising carbon dioxide levels to them.

Cousteau introduced a generation of children to the underwater world and the myriad, mysterious and eerie creatures of the deep, and Garbus’ film recreates that experience, using Cousteau’s pioneering archival images. His “silent world” was a place of awe and wonder that was increasing­ly under assault from above. Garbus asks us to wonder what kind of planet we would inhabit if those leaders at the Earth Summit had listened more closely to Cousteau. (“Becoming Cousteau” contains profanity and disturbing images.)

 ?? ?? AT SEA: Jacques Cousteau wears his iconic red diving cap aboard his ship Calypso, in a 1970s photo from the Cousteau Society, as seen in the documentar­y ‘Becoming Cousteau.’
AT SEA: Jacques Cousteau wears his iconic red diving cap aboard his ship Calypso, in a 1970s photo from the Cousteau Society, as seen in the documentar­y ‘Becoming Cousteau.’

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