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The Silent World (1956)

Le monde du silence (original title)
This pioneering nature documentary investigates aquatic habitats in various locations around the world. It doesn't shy away from the brutality present in the natural world, but it also ... See full summary »
Won 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Frédéric Dumas Frédéric Dumas ... Self
Albert Falco Albert Falco ... Self
Jacques-Yves Cousteau ... Self
François Saout François Saout ... Self
André Bourne-Chastel André Bourne-Chastel ... Self
Marcel Colomb Marcel Colomb ... Self
Simone Cousteau Simone Cousteau ... Self
Jean Delmas Jean Delmas ... Self
Jacques Ertaud Jacques Ertaud ... Self
Norbert Goldblech Norbert Goldblech ... Self
Fernand Hanae Fernand Hanae ... Self
André Laban André Laban ... Self
Maurice Leandri Maurice Leandri ... Self
Paul Martin Paul Martin ... Self
Denis Martin-Laval Denis Martin-Laval ... Self


This pioneering nature documentary investigates aquatic habitats in various locations around the world. It doesn't shy away from the brutality present in the natural world, but it also paints a fascinating picture of underwater exploration. Written by m7md yassen

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Greatest True Adventure of Our Time! See more »




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France | Italy



Release Date:

November 1956 (Italy) See more »

Also Known As:

The Silent World See more »

Filming Locations:

Mediterranean Sea See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


During filming, the crew accidentally injured a whale calf. To end its suffering, the whale was put to death. The blood attracted sharks to feed on the corpse and they were subsequently killed. See more »


Referenced in The Odyssey (2016) See more »

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User Reviews

Visually breathtaking, culturally significant but ecologically incorrect...
7 September 2016 | by ElMaruecan82See all my reviews

"The Silent World" has left me with the same puzzlement than that first Mickey Mouse classic, the first cartoon with synchronized sound, you know, "Steamboat Willie". That the two milestones are set above the water isn't the point, the point is in the cruel treatment animals get all through the journey. And keep in mind, one is a cartoon and the other is praised for its ecological values. In fact, my puzzlement had a lot to do with my expectations, but the reputation of "The Silent World" is likely to set them high.

The 1956 documentary featured the first Technicolor underwater shots made possible thanks to great water-proof cams combined with Jacques-Yves Cousteau innovative scuba diving equipment. The iconic Commandant and soon-to-be ecological icon has always been revered as the early defender of environment at a time where global warming and ecosystem didn't even belong to the dictionary. The film was the directorial debut of Louis Malle, whose body of works includes "My Dinner With Andre", "Atlantic City" and "Au Revoir les Enfants". Last but not least, the film won the Golden Palm at Cannes Festival and the Oscar for Best Documentary. In a certain way, "The Silent World" exuded cinematic respectability from every drop of water the Calypso sailed over.

Even the title was the promise of some magnificent shots under the sea where we would be transported into the majestic beauty that dominates a few leagues under the sea and discover the fauna and flora with only the sound of bubbles pouring or the diver's breathing in the background, you know a more Bergmanian version of National Geographic stuff. But what we get in "The Silent World" is a world that is anything but silent, it's about a bunch of explorers aboard the Calypso, sailing over the Indian Ocean. Guys who wander in the boat wearing swimming trunks, smoking cigarettes and not acting like the noble-hearted environmentalists we expect. Sure, they are experts in diving and the film fulfills its documentary value by educating us on the origins of scuba diving and such but these are not the parts the Captain-Planet generation will most remember.

I still have the dynamiting of the reef in mind, the only way to number the sea population, what an odd irony, killing creatures to identify the living. There's another scene where a diver uses a brave tortoise to move into water and almost complains that he had to abandon it when it was out of breath. I guess this is all preparing us to the infamous encounter with the sperm whales, and when a baby whale goes under the boat and gets torn up by the propeller, "because it was careless, like a kid" says the narrator, his long agony is shown, someone tries to harpoon it but the only way to end its misery is to shoot it in the head, and it's shown in close-up. Pretty hardcore. But this is nothing, the bleeding whale attracts dozens of sharks, and when the narrator says that "sharks are the mortal enemies of sailors" (unlike the dolphins who're like their pals), you know the worst is to come.

The Calypso crew literally rail at them. It's a live massacre that didn't seem to bother anyone by the time of the film's release and that even Cousteau regretted later, you see the so-called environmentalist display such a high level of violence, hitting, harpooning, disfiguring the sharks, that a PETA member would call them Animal Nazis or Apocalypso. So, give Spielberg a break, he didn't start that whole trend against sharks. This is the climactic display of violence, only followed by the discovery of giant tortoises in an Island, and at that point of the film, we're not even surprised to see them sitting on them and smoking cigarettes. The film is to documentary what "Tintin in Congo" is to comic-books, if you're not familiar with this album, never mind, you don't miss much.

The film ends with a friendlier encounter with a grouper nicknamed Jojo but even the narrator has a sense of condescension toward the animal, and it seems that "The Silent World" is about men who loved the sea but didn't treat its inhabitants with equal respect, there was still that 'distrust' and ancestral hatred pumping in their macho veins… and as strange as it sounds, maybe it's all these controversial characteristics that made "The Silent World" an interesting film, it didn't try to play the documentary card, it just was a honest and bold reflection of its time, and the guys there were no environmentalists, or ecologists, but adventurers as flawed and disrespectful as treasure hunters.

It's obvious that the world of sea would be better left without humans, I was just watching these disaster documentaries, one about the future of the planet if there were no humans, and if the Earth stopped spinning. In both cases, fish species wouldn't suffer much, on the contrary. So it's obvious that men had an impact on the oceans and we're doomed already, it's been 10 years since we've been briefed about this inconvenient truth. It's certain that we have enough documentaries to look with hypocritically tearing eyes at how the sea used to be. But when I had "The Silent World" in mind, I was expecting this kind of documentaries, it wasn't, but strangely enough, it was entertaining in its own wicked way.

So, for its controversial content that reflects the behavior of men that prevailed even within the context of a respect toward the environment, for its lack of moral consensus and its rather acid and condescending tone, "The Silent World" has the appeal of these controversial milestones, a shocker but a necessary one. I wasn't prepared for how awful some parts would be, but this is what makes it so interesting, the film doesn't leave you indifferent, and still, some underwater shots are breathtaking.

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