Notre-Dame on Fire review – a pulpy take on a real-life catastrophe

The 2019 fire that tore through Paris’s great cathedral gets the disaster movie treatment

There are shots at the start of Notre-Dame on Fire, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s unapologetically pulpy, disaster-movie take on the 2019 conflagration, when it feels like the opening sequence of Final Destination. Annaud boobytraps each frame with potential peril – the workman sneaking an illicit cigarette, the darting sparks from a circular saw, the pigeon pecking at the ancient wiring. It’s not so much a question of if the medieval cathedral will ignite as when.

Once the inferno is raging in the tinder-dry beams of Notre-Dame’s attic, the director ramps up the jeopardy, showing molten lead falling in globules on to the firefighters below. Attempts to create a sense of emotional engagement with key characters are rather stymied, however, by the fact that most of the emergency workers are concealed behind breathing apparatus. Instead, we get contrived scenes in which newbie firefighters share gum, and moments of pure cheese involving an adorable moppet and a prayer candle.

What the film does best is capture the daunting rage of the fire: Annaud combines muscular action sequences with actual footage of the event to eyebrow-scorching effect.

Watch a trailer for Notre-Dame on Fire.


Wendy Ide

The GuardianTramp

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