The Odyssey (3 stars)

The Odyssey

Lambert Wilson plays Jacques Cousteau in Jérôme Salle's fantastic-looking but rather clichéd biopic

The long, hectic life of underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau could lend itself to a dozen different biographies. The Odyssey (L'Odyssée) puts the emphasis on Cousteau's strained relationship with his son and the family dramas caused by his restless ambition and disregard for the feelings of those closest to him. The result is a film that looks fantastic but becomes bogged down in soap opera conventions and biopic clichés. A lot of dodgy wigs and liver spots float before our eyes to convey the passage of years.

Director Jérôme Salle attempts to pack a lot into a film that starts in 1979 and unfolds in flashback as he returns to the early years of the marriage between Cousteau (Lambert Wilson) and the long-suffering Simone (Audrey Tautou). He gallops through the pioneering voyages of the Calypso, global fame as a television personality and Cousteau's emergence as a committed environmentalist. There is a jaunty, jazzy feel to the initial scenes of family life full of carefree days and endless possibilities. Later, we gain a greater sense of Cousteau as an impossible dreamer, ruthless empire-builder and womaniser driven by a single-minded determination to conquer the ocean.

Everything is filtered through the relationship with his favourite son Philippe (Pierre Niney), as childhood hero worship turns to adult resentment of a father who neglects and undervalues him. Other characters, especially Simone, feel pushed to the sidelines.

A charismatic cast, sparkling cinematography and the lush strings of Alexandre Desplat's musical score all help make The Odyssey a lavish production, but all those dazzling blue skies and tempting waters sometimes feel more like an invitation to take a holiday than engage with a complex character. Ultimately, you can't help thinking that Wes Anderson's Cousteau-inspired The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was a good deal more fun.

Selected release from Fri 18 Aug.

The Odyssey

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • France
  • 2h 2min
  • Directed by: Jérôme Salle
  • Cast: Lambert Wilson, Pierre Niney, Audrey Tautou
  • UK release: 18 August 2017

Biopic of underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau (Wilson), focusing on his strained relationship with his son. It looks fantastic, but becomes bogged down in soap opera conventions and biopic cliché, with characters such as Cousteau’s long-suffering wife Simone (Tautou) pushed to the sidelines.