Director: Jérôme Salle
Cast: Lambert Wilson, Audrey Tautou, Pierre Niney
Watch The Odyssey online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / Sky Store
Telling the lifelong story of renowned filmmaker and explorer Jacques Cousteau was always set to be a challenge, least of all when Jérôme Salle took charge of putting such a rich and eventful story onto film. The Odyssey, or L’odyssee, is a particularly challenging and ambitious biopic, spanning Cousteau’s decades of adventuring, discovering, and, ultimately, learning about himself.
In around two hours, we’re taken from his earlier life and thrown into his inquisitive side throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, where his views evolve somewhat. During this time, the film takes us through his relationships – specifically, with his immediate family. Cousteau (Lambert Wilson) struggles with the concepts of family life and being married to dedicated spouse Simone (Audrey Tatou), and has trouble emotionally connecting with son Philippe, before shipping him off to boarding school, only for him to return as an adult (played by Pierre Niney), who now has his own opposing set of beliefs.
Your take on the events that unfold here will differ depending on your generation. Being of the older persuasion, you may well be aware of the man’s impact on a number of things, such as his innovations when it comes to deep sea diving, but millennials will likely read it very differently. If you’re not up-to-date with Jacques Cousteau and his achievements, it’d be easy to make visual comparisons to Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. In truth, Anderson’s entire career is down to his idol Cousteau, with Life Aquatic paying huge homage to his life and how his family and career played out. In retrospect, it’s difficult not to trivialise the events we see in The Odyssey, due to what some will have witnessed in Wes’ tribute. But be certain of one thing: this is no jaunty adventure of whimsy. Instead, it’s an intrepid and cautious depiction of the explorer’s life.
While some aspects are thrilling and interesting as relevant talking points today, there’s a lot of filler that cushions any moments of incident. The slow-paced story tends to take us through the more mundane parts on an equal keel with the defining ones. In this respect, The Odyssey lulls and drifts off from its steered direction, simmering almost to the point of boredom. What’s more, there’s such an enormous amount of time to be squeezed into such a short duration, you can’t help but wonder if a more ruthless editor had been in charge, it would have benefitted from a sharper trim. Years pass at the transition of a shot, leaving gaps for us to fill in, or simply pick up, as it vaguely informs us of the jump.
Yet perhaps the film’s biggest selling point is its handling of personal issues. Jealously, mistrust, desire, and overzealousness encumber our central characters and paint a flawed and often unfavourable picture of Cousteau; there’s time for threads to unfold, attitudes to change, and repentance to be made.
Essentially, The Odyssey is an uplifting tale of sea exploration. But not only is it about the achievements and failures of one of the 20th century’s most interesting pioneers, it’s a sombre story about one man’s ambition and drive that subsequently alienated him from those he held closest, revealing some of the madness behind a revered icon.