Dir: Jean Jacques Annaud | France, Docudrama 120′
Veteran filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud pulls out all the stops for this incendiary docudrama that offers a blow-by-blow reenactment of the thrilling events leading up to the tragic fire that partially destroyed Paris Notre Dame Cathedral during 24 hours in the spring of 2019.
Tracing back to the human error that set the blaze in motion, the film also shows how La Brigade Des Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris (also known as the fire brigade) eventually quelled the flames and saved the iconic Christian monument – that took 182 years to build – from total destruction.
Notre Dame on Fire is a lavishly mounted epic that plays out like a thriller in revealing the perfect storm that leads to the climax. What’s crucial is the way Annaud and his writer Thomas Bidegain (A Prophet) – whose script rather overdoes the melodrama – show just how close Paris came to having its majestic Gothic centrepiece reduced to rubble in a fire that could have obliterated the cultural and religious touchstone of many a film and novel, Victor Hugo’s hunchback the most memorable.
Occasionally veering into dialogue as clunky as the blocks of limestone that bolster the cathedral’s foundations Notre Dame certainly makes for compulsive viewing with its blend of genuine footage – made up of government drones, TV clips, and mobile phones – and the imagined drama that follows the race to save not only the edifice but the priceless religious relics: a crown of thorns believed to be the original from the Crucifixion and a nail from the True Cross. They are locked away in a hidden safe, but the mystery that drives the action forward is – who has the key?
The dramatic scenes of the roaring inferno are brilliantly handled by DoP Jean-Marie Dreujou and production designer Jean Rabasse who has incorporated replica sets, which were subjected to fierce but controlled flames, and these impart an authenticity that is really impressive. The cast and crew had to wear real fire-fighting gear capable of withstanding temperatures of 1300° F. The fiercest parts of the blaze are the choreographed highlights in the belfry and the transept, and catastrophic collapse of the spire as it comes crashing down into the nave. A fascinating true story which makes for a visually exciting spectacle.
IN CINEMAS FROM 22 JULY 2022