In a bewildering dual interview, French writer and director Jerome Salle and actor Lambert Wilson gave us the lowdown on their latest collaboration. The Odyssey tells the story of the iconic Jaques-Yves Cousteau: a famed explorer, filmmaker, conservationist, innovator, scientist, author and more. Cousteau also left behind more than 100 television documentaries. Passionate and often wizardry, Cousteau’s life is explored through the subject of the oceans.
For his role as Cousteau, Lambert Wilson would sometimes have two hours of make-up applied before filming. Having time-travelled on screen through three different eras’ it appears that the costume designers were equally as busy. Admittedly there is only one actor that Wilson himself would have enjoyed seeing take on the role.
“Adrian Brody actually looks like Cousteau, the thing is you cannot have an American Cousteau because he is so incredibly French”
“I would mention only the name of Adrian Brody”, admits Wilson.
The Odyssey is an alluring piece of cinema, using a combination of on-set locations such as The Bahamas’ and Cape Town, craftily fused with CGI. It’s something like the first time your eyes fell upon your introductory crush. Following 30 years in the life of Cousteau, it’s a biopic nestled between intimacy, adventure and prestige.
“When you play a character who is so visible in the media, where there is such documentation all around in a way it’s easier” declares Wilson.
“For the French Cousteau is an icon, in a way the greatest challenge is to impersonate someone who is so iconic and loved”
Rightfully challenged on taking on such a huge role, Wilson takes a moment to gather before exclaiming:
“You run the risk of disappointing people, and also presenting this adored character in a different light. I.e. showing some of his darker sides, as he was rather egocentric”
French directors have long been considered the auteurs of modern cinema. Some might say there’s a certain nuance to the look and feel of French films, usually they are aided by performances of the young and upcoming (Pierre Niney as Philippe Cousteau’s younger son) or the established (Audrey Tautou as Simone, Cousteau’s wife).
“I mean Audrey is an amazing actress, this is a supporting role – I was very lucky that she said yes and I think she said yes because from the very first time she read the script she really understood especially who Cousteau was I think and I felt that when we spoke together and after her first reading” says director Jerome Salle.
Alleged of living a double life with a mistress and a second family, as an on-screen couple: actress Audrey Tautou who and Lambert Wilson share a few defining albeit heated moments throughout the film.
“When the dialogue flows naturally and the construction of the scene is right it feels right. It’s like a ski-slope, you take the turns and it flows naturally. Actors feel that instinctively”
The Odyssey doesn’t shy away from its French traditions of auteurism, even when some of its most visually appealing bits are deep below sea-level.
“My dream was that the former divers and cameraman and the members of the crew of the Calypso who we had met before the filming who are now in their 70s and 80s should not be disappointed and to be moved by our performance” adds Wilson.
In a modern world where young people are increasingly growing awareness of social injustices parcelled by previous generations, one could argue that there could not be a greater time to find a younger audience to whom Jacques Yves Cousteau could be introduced. The script tries to imprint an ecological message wherever possible which is especially fitting given that we are living in a planet that is beginning to fall prey to pollution.
“I always write my own scripts, not always alone. I’m the one who decides the story I’m going to tell which is most important to me and on the other hand most of the movies I’ve made require to be quite a good technician, and I enjoy it as a tool. Most important for me is the story I’m trying to tell and then I try and use where possible, the tools that I have. But being technical is never a goal” Jerome tells me.
The Odyssey has been screened at the COLCOA French Film Festival in the states were it was well received.
“I think the release of the film in America is something to look forward to. The Myth of Costeau is huge in America. California people are extremely aware of global warming. Their ecological awareness is high, California is a different state altogether” states Wilson.
The Odyssey stars Lambert Wilson, Audrey Tautou and Pierre Nieney. It is written by Jerome Salle and Laurent Turner, and is rated 10 – 12 PG. Release date: 14th July 2017.
Running Time: 124 MIN.