Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cousteau Mini Blogathon: Le monde du silence

YEAR: 1956; DIRECTORS: Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Louis Malle; WRITER: Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Having read and heard much about Cousteau, I actually don't know a bit about him. The Cousteau Mini Blogathon, consisting of three famous documentaries by or with the famous scientist and filmmaker, is supposed to change this. 

In case you know even less than I do, here's a brief summarization of what I know: Cousteau invented a lot of cool stuff for ocean science and discovered many new animals and plants. Furthermore, he was just you know, cool like that, and he hated sharks. He also wrote tons of books. Oh, and his ship was called the Calypso.
Moving on to my first Cousteau film, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and the Palme D'Or, the only documentary to achieve this aside from Fahrenheit 9/11.
If I were to sum up my viewing experience in three words, I'd say: „boring... disgusting... fascinating“.

I have often been slightly ashamed when I was bored by an acclaimed film, especially if it was very calm and nothing much happened. Keyword silent film. However, I decided to think differently from now on, because trying to not be bored by a film I was bored by, would be just like trying to be bored by a film I was entertained by - and I would never do that. 
The Silent World wasn't about suspense or science, it was about something entirely else, which I will talk about in the last paragraph. So, obviously, I found it boring. Although I'm interested in oceanography and similar. A man diving through an abandoned shipwreck for 10 minutes is boring, though fascinating as well. But we'll get to that.
And before I forget it: many scenes on board seemed like the scientists were acting. Badly. 

It's not like I'm one of those extremist biological and ecological food maniacs, but I do care about the environment and the way we treat other life-forms. So watching some so-called scientists massacre sharks just because they want to eat a whale cadaver isn't exactly what I find entertaining, nor even acceptable. Same goes for the same "scientists" placing dynamite in a coral reef in order to "study" the animals in it. However, wikipedia tells me that these two points were criticized by many people and that Cousteau changed his mind later on and became very much environmentally active. Thank God.

The thing The Silent World became most known for was its revolutionary and extremely fascinating underwater shots and cinematography, and I completely understand that. Even today, being spoiled by documentaries like Blue Planet and what else their called, much of the material is capturing and soothes the mind (except when sharks are around). There was even one thing I don't remember having seen before: corals deep under the surface, like 60-75 meters, were illuminated, and you could see the bright colours that became even brighter the deeper you went. 
I can only imagine what it must have been like to see this in the mid-fifties. 

The final word
Despite its many flaws, The Silent World remains a must-watch for people interested in documentary and oceanography, and I don't regret having seen it. However, there are better films of the like.


  1. I thought you've already reviewed Water World before... wait this is different? Just kidding...

    I've never seen a documentary from the 50s, so this might actually be interesting. And considering that era was less polluted, the ocean probably looks way more gorgeous than any documentary made today.

    1. No, it doesn't really... but that's probably because of the quality of the film stock ;).
      It was also my first documentary from the 50s... or wait - is Night and Fog from the 50s?

      Anyhow, interesting you mention Waterworld... the similarity (qualitative) is striking.

  2. Thanks for the review. This one's on my list because it won the Palme d'Or, and I'm a fan of Malle, but I'm not looking forward to it as much now.

  3. Oh, well maybe you'll enjoy it more than I did. Hopefully.


Let the discussion begin!