Becoming Cousteau – TIFF21


Becoming Cousteau – TIFF21

A look at the life, passions, achievements and tragedies surrounding the famous explorer and environmentalist Jacques Cousteau, featuring an archive of his newly restored footage.

The life and career of the famous underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau is revisited in . Jacques-Yves Cousteau began his fascination with the underwater world going freediving with his friends Philippe Tailliez and Frédéric Dumas in the 1940s French riviera, with the three helping to develop a breathing regulator that helped to negate the need for large cumbersome diving suits. Cousteau's celebrity would begin to rise with his Palm D'Or and Oscar-winning 1956 documentary The Silent World and he would eventually become a renowned TV host beginning with 1968's The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Later in life, following the tragic death of his son Philippe, Cousteau would refocus his efforts on environmentalism, which included the founding of the Cousteau Society charity.

Becoming Cousteau is a biographical documentary from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus, which primarily uses archival footage and voice-over interviews. The film is also de facto narrated by actor Vincent Cassell, who is essentially playing the role of Cousteau by reading his journals. The film shows life aboard Cousteau's ship the Calypso, where he was always accompanied by his first wife Simone, and their sons Jean-Michel and Philippe, though it is noted at one point that “an explorer has no right to be a family man.” Not realizing the environmental impact of his early excursions, Jacques Cousteau dedicated the final years of his life trying to warn the powers that be of the danger humanity poses to the planet.

If anything, Becoming Cousteau acts as a solid primer for those unfamiliar with Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who at one point was the most well-known underwater explorer. While Liz Garbus tries to make Becoming Cousteau timely by emphasizing Cousteau's warnings about climate change back in the 1980s and 1990s, ultimately Becoming Cousteau just resulted in me wanting to seek out Jacques Cousteau's own documentary films.

Becoming Cousteau screened as part of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.