Sadly I admit that when I saw the name and poster of this film I did not know who Cousteau was. Sitting down to watch it, I was fascinated and ready to learn everything about him and why they spent time creating this documentary. As soon as I heard a British interviewer say, “Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau”, a lightbulb turned on.
Being a young child in the 90s when Cousteau passed away (1997), I had heard his name spoken frequently and remember his trademark red woollen cap and blue shirt. However, I never had the full experience of seeing his immense work of capturing the ocean on film, inventing diving equipment, and most importantly the environmental work during throughout his later years.
BECOMING COUSTEAU provides the audience with all the incredible visual footage of Cousteau’s experiences from early black and white film of free-diving and spearfishing in France to the early iteration of his invention the ‘Aqualung’. In such pristine condition, the footage shows in detail the highs and lows of the life he built on the sea with his family and crew. Giving the illusion of intimacy, many of the films he produced and footage he captured were all on his boat, the Calypso.
This sense of intimacy is in most part to his love for cinema, which he started filming alongside his brother at the age of 13. This lead to Cousteau directing 23 films and producing 45 films and television programs in his 87 years. Like the fascination of space travel, underwater exploration was just as exciting for young children of the 60s and 70s who followed Cousteau’s adventures – literally bringing the depths of the ocean to millions of people.
With the story's narration and interviews all recorded from moments in Cousteau’s life, this beautifully produced documentary lets the footage shine and shows the dedication to centring Cousteau as the hero of this story. While he is shown as an incredible man, his acceptance of his own flaws allows for the documentary to reveal the hardships he and his family went through mentally and physically; the early accident that led him to discover free-diving, the guilt he had for his work with oil companies in his youth and their treatment of the coral reefs, all lead to his tenacity to protect the oceans.
While BECOMING COUSTEAU will bring back the magic to people who grew up watching his films, in a way, the perfect audience of this documentary are children of the late 90s and beyond. Experiencing Jacques Cousteau’s incredible work, which is collated within this film feels as close as you could have to have seen it at the time of these films' release.
Becoming Cousteau is in selected cinemas now.