French Film Review: Notre-Dame on Fire

French Film Review: Notre-Dame on Fire

Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Name of the Rose) used to go to Notre-Dame de Paris every week with his mother when he was a child. And like the rest of the world, he was stunned when, on April 15, 2019, flames tore through the 859-year-old cathedral – although he was on holiday in the Vendée at the time with no access to a TV.

In this movie, he reconstructs the unbelievable events of that dark night when the cathedral suffered the biggest disaster in its long history and reveals how people put their lives at risk in an incredible and heroic rescue. With forensic detail and vast compassion, Annaud recreates the traffic jams which held up the fire brigade, the reaction of the local residents and the preening of politicians keen for their 15 minutes of fame.

His research was thorough: more than 150 interviews with police, residents, firefighters, clergy and others. “What I discovered … was unimaginable,” he said. “A fascinating cascade of mishaps, obstacles, malfunctions. Pure implausibility but true. On top of that, it had all the components of a good story: in the lead role, an international star – Notre-Dame de Paris; its adversary, a fearsome and charismatic demon – fire. Between the two, people ready to give their lives to save stones.”

Asked what he found most astonishing about the events of April 15, 2019, Annaud said: “The fire was detected at the start of Holy Monday Mass, at 6.17 p.m., and was not brought to the attention of the fire brigade until half an hour later by a friend of the General who was on holiday in Florence. From the morning, an unstoppable drama is set in motion, where everything seems to come together to lead to an inevitable catastrophe: it is the first day of work at Notre-Dame of the new fire safety supervisor, responsible for watching over an electronic panel where alerts are triggered in the event of a disaster. He’d never visited the Cathedral…” And so it goes on. It’s fascinating and dramatic stuff all right.

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Starring: Samuel Labarthe, Jean-Paul Bordes, Mikael Chirinian

From France Today magazine

Lead photo credit : © Loic Salan

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