The Odyssey

 

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In this film the life of Jacques-Yves Cousteau yields less than it should have done.

 
Odyssey, The
  

This good-looking but superficial biopic by Jérôme Salle takes as it subject the underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1911-1997). He was a man who made his own mark in cinema when his documentary The Silent World carried off the top prize at Cannes in 1956. But his fame may no longer mean much to today's cinemagoers and you would expect that this film, derived from two books about him as well as much research, would take that into account. It does indeed start dramatically by featuring the death of his favoured son Philippe in 1979 when his flying boat crashed but, once past that introduction, there's little to stir us as it goes back to 1949 and then proceeds with a traditional, chronological account of Cousteau and his family over the next thirty years.

 

In theory there should be drama aplenty as we follow Cousteau's career, the huge impact of The Silent World and his success with films that he made about his work for showing on television. But it is only very late on in the film when he explores Antarctica that we are made to feel the significance of ventures such as this one into uncharted ground. Until then there is talk of flora and fauna and of oceanographic discoveries, but little detail to explain their importance. Similarly, the film largely passes over Cousteau's infidelity to his wife Simone totally ignoring the fact that during his marriage to her he had two children by another woman whom he would marry after his first wife's death.

 

The film suggests that Cousteau was self-centred in seeking fame and that it was only after being criticised by Philippe that the father fully embraced environmentalism as a crucial cause - this in a late scene that is rather more effective than what has gone before. But, if The Odyssey becomes more telling in its second half, it loses out again by turning into a veritable weepie in its sentimental treatment of the news of Philippe's death.

 

As it is, Salle's film has two things going for it. One is the attractive underwater sequences shot in colour and 'Scope and the other is the competence of the leading players. Lambert Wilson plays Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Pierre Niney is Philippe, and they are very much the central figures here. However, it is Audrey Tautou    who proves the most memorable player: as the devoted but betrayed Simone, she has relatively little to work with but nevertheless succeeds in making what on paper is minimal into something possessed of real presence.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Lambert Wilson, Pierre Niney, Audrey Tautou, Laurent Lucas, Benjamin Lavernhe, Vincent Heneine, Ulysse Stein, Rafaël De Ferran.

 

Dir Jérôme Salle, Pro Nathalie Gastaldo-Godeau, Olivier Delbosc, Philippe Godeau and Marc Missonnier, Screenplay Jérôme Salle and Laurent Turner (freely inspired by Mon Père le Commandant by Jean-Michel Cousteau and by Capitaine de la Calypso by Albert Falco and Yves Paccalet), Ph Matias Boucard, Art Dir Laurent Ott, Ed Stan Collet, Music Alexandre Desplat, Costumes Carine Sarfati.

 

Fidelité Films/Pan-Européenne/Curiosa Films/Moana Films/Wild Bunch/TF1 Films Production/Casa Productions/Versus Production-Altitude Film Entertainment.
118 mins. France/Belgium/Croatia. 2016. Rel: 18 August 2017. Cert. PG.