“Becoming Cousteau” – Beautiful and Compelling : Movie Review

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By Barbara Keer and Elaine L. Mura

“I saw my job as getting people to know and love the sea… Because you only protect what you love.” — Jacques Cousteau 

BECOMING COUSTEAU which was produced by Dan Cogan, Mridu Chandra, and Evan Hayes will be in theatres on October 22, 2021 and it is an amazing work.  The only words to describe this remarkable film are gorgeous, powerful, sad and overwhelming. The initial shots of a world newly discovered were exquisite and worth the price of admission.  Jacques Cousteau’s story is filled with drama and accomplishments that are amazing.  It’s sad to think that this man-who discovered the world beneath the sea and conjured up multiple inventions to make it possible for everyone to share the wonder – but also inadvertentky began to ruin the world – before he realized what he was doing and made Herculean efforts to undo the damage.

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The film shares how it was that the world gained a peak at the underwater world. Cousteau was multi-talented, demonstrating skill in filming movies from a young age, writing 50 books, and inventing needed equipment to allow filming deeper in the sea for a start. His many accomplishments are explored but his weaknesses and failures, too.  One of the most powerful scenes was the burial at sea of his son, Phillipe.

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National Geographic Documentary Films, two-time Academy Award- nominated filmmaker LIZ GARBUS presents an individual who was  remarkable, complicated, and multi-faceted and the times in which he lived. To do this she spent 550 hours reviewing archival material and rarely-seen footage to let Cousteau’s films, words and recollections tell his own story.  She also spent over 100 hours listening to audio journal entries, interviews and observations from collaborators and crew members add to this inside look at Cousteau. A very interesting addition was the story of his first wife and collaborator Simone Melchior (known aboard the Calypso as “The Shepherdess”), his family experiences, his second wife Francine Triplet, the creation of The Cousteau Society and the crucial work they do, and his evolution into one of the most important environmental voices of the 20th century, whose words and images are more vital today than ever. 

His first film, “The Silent World” was the first non-narrative film to win Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, which then won an Oscar® for Best Documentary Feature. Making additional films required raising money.  Oil companies were his answer until he realized the seas were being damaged.

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In addition to writing over 50 books, Cousteau brought his adventures into millions of living rooms starting in 1966 through two iconic and enormously popular series of TV specials, “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” and “The Cousteau Odyssey.” His documentaries have garnered 40 Emmy® nominations and 10 wins, while Cousteau himself received the National Geographic Society’s Special Gold Medal, France’s Grand Cross of National Order of Merit, and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many other honors. 

Becoming Cousteau poster, Courtesy of “Becoming Cousteau”

This is an intriguing, captivating, and overall beautiful film about a world many of us have not seen first hand. The film honors Cousteau’s lifelong motto: “We have to see for ourselves.” And see this world he did. At this point in history, it is also an important film as climate change begins its inexorable march into our daily lives. The recent oil spill off the coast of Southern California is but one of the present and potential disasters which create constant challenges for each of us. The pioneer Cousteau died in 1997 at the age of 87, but his legacy remains with us and demands that we continue to evaluate our relationship with the world-both above and below the water.

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