Critic’s Rating : 3.5 / 5
Notre Dame on Fire Movie Review : A slow-burning yet gripping saga of Notre Dame’s dramatic rescue
Review: April 15, 2019 – clearly one of the darkest days in recent French history. It was a day that had started just like any other with tourists and guides milling inside the 850-year-old cathedral and the most visited monument in Paris. But just then, a fire alarm goes off and a pre-recorded announcement gently asks the guests to evacuate the building. It turns out to be a false alarm and the guests are asked to return. But minutes later, all hell breaks loose, as the unthinkable happens. And thus, begins a flurry of activities to put out a fire that can devour the country’s prized possessions and its most revered structure.
By all accounts, ‘Notre Dame on Fire’ is a documentary that follows a linear narrative depicting the events that unfolded that evening. Academy Award-winning director Jean-Jacques Annaud mostly stays within the realm of showing us what went on inside and outside the cathedral while trying to infuse moments of thrill and adventure via some untold stories of heroism. Just like in reality, the exact cause of the fire is never revealed but it deftly showcases all the challenges faced by firefighters and rescue workers on duty. In doing so, the film also lays bare the glaring lacunae in Notre Dame’s faltering fire alarms, narrow access to the building, the complacency of the administration and the building staff and the total lack of preparedness during an event like this. The film doesn’t shy away from showing us the lax safety measures especially, during the restoration work in the spire that remains the most probable cause of the fire.
Not driving the entire event through the eyes of any one character means that the experience is more informative than emotional. It’s a slow-burn saga that strives to give its audience every minute detail of the rescue operation. Intricate scenes of flames licking and destroying some of the most iconic structures within the building make for a riveting watch. It is heart-wrenchingly real and underlines the herculean production effort that must have gone into recreating the inferno. At times, the use of two and three-way split screens and using real-time footage also give it a very newsy feel. Simon Franglen’s background score is a bit jarring but the overall sound design elevates the impact of Annuad’s storytelling.
The only casualty of this fire was the Notre Dame itself. Thankfully, no lives were lost. But the sheer grit and determination with which the firefighters and the people of Paris came together to save their landmark place of worship, shines through in the end. Making a film like this is literally a trial by fire and Annaud once again passes it with flying colours.