Iconic Retelling

Jérôme Salle’s The Odyssey tells the story of French icon Jacques Cousteau, the deep sea diver who brought the undersea world to millions of viewers. Starring Lambert Wilson as Cousteau and Audrey Tautou as his long-suffering wife Simone, the film follows the diver’s rise as he sails around the world with his crew on his boat The Calypso. Salle speaks about the cult of Cousteau and the experiences of making the film.

ASFF: What got you into telling a story about Jacques Cousteau?
JS: I started to tell this story because I was talking to my own kids. I came home and I don’t remember why exactly but I mentioned Jacques Cousteau and they said, “Who?” I said, “Come on!” And they didn’t know who he was. Maybe they heard the name, that’s it. Why? I don’t know.

ASFF: Do you think Cousteau was an early adopter of environmental causes?
JS: We should not forget that Jacques Cousteau was born in 1910. There was no electricity in his home. He’s really a guy out of the 19th Century. People from this generation were still thinking that the planet had no limits. I was talking with former sailors from The Calypso; they all told me: “We were all green just because we saw what was happening.” [They were] coming back years later to the same place and seeing that everything was disappearing.

ASFF: Was he also obsessed by fame?
JS: I think he was. I think he was enjoying celebrity for two reasons. First, I think he had quite a big ego, to be honest. Secondly, he understood quite early that it was a great tool for him. Being famous gave him a lot of power. He enjoyed that. Not for bad goals. He just knew it was a tool. But he was narcissistic, for sure.

ASFF: You and the cast actually dived with sharks. Were you afraid?
JS: It’s always better when you’re afraid of something to say, “I’m afraid of this” and I was afraid of this. And first time when you dive with sharks, its frightening but as soon you are in the water with them and you have people who are used to that, so you can see they’re calm, you get used to it. You have to be very calm for sure. This is what’s cool about diving: diving is a very good school for life. Diving, you have to stay cool whatever happens.

ASFF: What sort of reactions have you had to the film from environmental agencies?
JS: We screened it and UNESCO came and said we’d love to be a part of it. Now Greenpeace came and said, “We’d love to be part of it.” We’re very happy about that. But I was not looking for that. I was not trying to deliver a message. I was just trying to tell a story. Now I’m happy that it happens.

James Mottram

The Odyssey opens in cinemas on 18 August. For more information: www.altitudefilment.com

1.Still from The Odyssey.