Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5
Original Title: Le monde du silence
France/Italy, 1956. FSJYC Production, Requins Associés, Société Filmad, Titanus. Screenplay by Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Cinematography by Philippe Agostini, Louis Malle. Produced by Marcel Ichac. Music by Yves Baudrier. Film Editing by Georges Alépée.
Louis Malle collaborated with oceanographer and famed deep sea diver Jacques-Yves Cousteau on this celebrated film, which took the Oscar for Best Documentary as well as being the only film in its genre to win the Palme D’Or at Cannes until Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Setting us up to meet the “space men of the sea” (to capture the imaginations of young people in love with the science-fiction films of the time), Cousteau and Malle create a rich sense of wonder about exploring the ocean depths that matches the beauty of all imagined space travel, following Cousteau’s crew of the Calypso on a series of exploratory dives. Filmed in four different bodies of water, Cousteau and company join sponge divers in Greece, investigate a sunken ship, and treat us to lessons on decompressing after a trip to the ocean floor as well as showing off new motorized equipment used to get around underwater faster than swimming will allow. A great deal of the film’s content is controversial now (and, by all accounts, raised no small outcry in its time), particularly the inadvertent killing of a young whale that is followed by the crew’s attack on sharks, while Cousteau’s scientific methods of dropping land mines in a tide pool to catalogue its inhabitants by examining their dead bodies is certainly not today’s idea of marine conservation. The red-hatted science hero would eventually get his methods in line with ecological standards, but what makes the most impression this film’s bright colours that are still rich with astonishing beauty, with images of the world beneath the surface that can compare with the technological dazzle that is available to us today.
Academy Award: Best Documentary Feature
Cannes Film Festival Award: Palme D’Or