The Odyssey (2016)
Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a hero to generations of children. His development of the Aqua-Lung led him to explore new worlds under the sea which he shared on his television series’ and Academy Award winning documentaries. Yet while the man in the red beanie welcomed legions of fans, this biopic indicates his own family was alienated by his selfish determination. In focusing on this aspect of his life, The Odyssey runs the risk of making Cousteau the bad guy in his own biopic... if it was his biopic to begin with.
Bookended by the death of his favoured son Philippe, the film flashes back to 1949 when the Cousteau family arrive at their new home purchased from the proceeds of the Aqua-Lung. Spurred on by the success of his underwater documentaries, Cousteau sets off to research the world’s oceans, funded by oil companies interested in offshore drilling. Much to their disappointment, Phillipe and his elder brother Jean-Michel are left behind in boarding schools. When the family reunites years later, the noticeable strain between Jacques and Phillipe is momentarily overcome by their shared sense of adventure. However the rift reemerges as Jacques veers towards vaudeville in the pursuit of funding, while Phillipe grows more concerned about the sustainability of the environment.
It is telling that most of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s greatest achievements occur off-camera. The story begins after the development of the Aqua-Lung and his campaign to preserve the Antarctic is served up as a coda at the films’ end. Even his pioneering years aboard the Calypso are cleverly used as a backdrop for Phillipe’s ascent into adulthood. Nevertheless he remains a dominant presence, enigmatically portrayed by Lambert Wilson. Pierre Niney provides a sympathetic hero as Phillipe, Vincent Heneine adds flavour as crew member 'Bébert' and Audrey Tautou all but steals the picture as Simone.
However the real stars of the film are the underwater sequences, achieved with a mixture of CGI and beautiful cinematography by Matias Boucard. Individually they provide a more fitting tribute to Cousteau than the film manages as a whole.
Though Phillipe Cousteau did die in a plane crash, it was not as depicted in the film which has him drowning after the plane crashes into the sea. In reality, the Ctalaina nosed dived in the Tagus River and turned upside down. The wing separated from the fuselage and the left engine broke off, penetrating the captain's side of the cockpit. Also, apart from the two depicted in the film, there were another six people onboard. Phillipe was the only fatality.
Features original footage from The Silent World and World Without Sun. Also looks behind the scenes of Voyage to the Edge of the World.