The forlorn Philippe is abandoned to boarding school, left to cling miserably to a pair of his Dads diving goggles which will later make one appearance too many. After this, things become highly episodic, charting Cousteaus largely untroubled rise and rise as he Gallically charms money from the pockets of various patrons, including, interestingly, the underwater oil sector and, crucially, Americans, presented here in lazy stereotype. Much of it is done via often deja vu musical ellipses, some more cleverly conceived than others. The script charts Cousteaus business successes with only the briefest attention paid to the obstacles standing in his way, the film focusing on Cousteau as businessman more than one any of his other achievements; the occasional lack of cash, an affair which Simone learns about, and a pipe which he briefly adopts, are brushed aside with equal insouciance by both the script and by Cousteau, and do little to engage the viewer with either the man or his story. Thus The Odyssey is more than mere hagiography, but being aware of its subjects multiple faults is not enough to make him compelling as a character. Lambert Wilson, aided by terrific aging make-up and the streamlined, hawkish features that make him look like a highly idealized, tourist portrait version of the original, is convincingly devil-may-care throughout, a throwback to the clipped butderring-do heroes of the 40s. (The red hat, which was part of Cousteaus carefully-crafted self-marketing, looks less persuasive atop Wilson, but there can be no finer silhouette when it comes to unhappily, and somewhat stagily, standing by a window.) More interesting (and in sales terms, it was a smart move to devote so much screen time to him) is the troubled Philippe, essentially the only opposition to his Dad as well as the films only dramatic conflict. The relationship between father and son is the heart of the film, and a metaphor of our changing relationship to the oceans: while Cousteau embodies the old spirit of exploration and conquest, Philippe represents our (perhaps too-late) desire to conserve and protect, which means that the film feels dramatically pretty inert during the lengthy scenes during which the younger man is absent. Initially playing the supportive wife to perfection, Simone soon becomes disillusioned by the years of life lived aboard the Calypso: But her role, as are the roles of the other women, is basically passive, and again the viewers attention is divided between Simones sufferings and Tatou’s skillfully applied makeup as the years pass. Where the film does deliver is on the visuals, a combination of on-location and CGI: although even here, a public spoilt by the mind-blowing submarine photography of the BBC and National Geographic may feel as though theyve visited these silent, blue expanses before, but better. Two sequences, one involving loads of circling sharks and sequence involving a Philippe and whale in perfect balletic man/nature harmony, are especially striking, and theres still enough underwater wonder to suggest something of the fascination and passion which drove Cousteau on.
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