Saturday, May 28

Notre Dame burns again in theaters and reveals “the chaos that prevented its salvation”


On April 15, 2019, everyone held their breath. A column of smoke began to rise from the Cathedral of Notre Dame, one of the most emblematic and visited buildings in the world. Within a few minutes, the flames began to devour the entire building and the catastrophe was unleashed. Its roof and its emblematic spire, which could be seen from anywhere in Paris, burned and shattered without the firefighters being able to do anything to prevent it. Not only was a cathedral burning, a symbol of France and all of Europe was burning.

Radiography of the cultural disaster in Notre-Dame: what burned and what resisted

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Film director Jean-Jacques Annaud, creator of unforgettable films such as The name of the rose either Bear, lives 150 meters from Notre Dame. That afternoon she was not at home, but she remembers the moment perfectly. “I was in a place with no television and heard the drama on the radio. But I have known Notre Dame very well since I was a child and I live nearby, so I was the first to receive the smoke even though I was not present because I could imagine what was happening, ”he recalls of that fateful afternoon.

At that moment he realized that there was a film – which this Friday hits theaters with the name of Notre Dame burns— in that tragedy. “The film was already taking place in my head to the point that I thought it was such a cinematographic theme and that there were going to be thousands of directors who were going to want to make this film. So I said to my wife: ‘Can you imagine the number of cretins that are going to rush to make them?’ And in the end it was me. At first I only saw the outside, but what I didn’t imagine was the chaotic succession of obstacles, impediments and dysfunctions that were going to prevent that salvation”, she says. When the alarm sounded and they approached where the fire seemed to have started, nothing unusual was seen and crucial time was lost to save her. As if that were not enough, the only person who had the key to rescue the relics was in Versailles… A succession of catastrophic misfortunes.


Annaud does not venture to ascertain the cause of the fire, although he leaves clues that point to all the hypotheses. The workers’ cigarettes, a short circuit, anything could be the origin, but from there he carefully reconstructs everything that happened. The decisions that were made and those that were not made. He does it by mixing fiction with massive archive material. He makes them dialogue in such a way that, at one point, it seems that Macron himself is an actor in the film when he visits the fire department. It is to them that the director surrenders, to those young kids who gave everything to save the cathedral.

That fire meant much more than a heritage tragedy. For Annaud “it put an end to the adventure of the yellow vests, who were at war against Paris, against the elite.” “It was a poorer rural part, and it is something I can understand because there is a forgotten rural part, fuels were very expensive and there was an understandable revolt. In French culture this is normal. We are the country of the revolution, of the guillotine… Since before the revolution there were the peasants who rebelled and killed the aristocrats, so there is a long tradition”, says the director.

Cinema did not kill opera, and platforms cannot kill cinema. But for that the cinema has to be up to the task, make films that are worthwhile

Jean Jacques Annaud
Film director

“This fire was a shock, because Notre Dame symbolized the perennial, not only for Paris, but for the entire West. It is the most visited building in Europe and the most visited sacred building in the world, and when such a symbol disappears or may disappear there is an international emotion, but also a French emotion. The French are not very nationalistic, but this surprised them, that this place that symbolizes France was going to disappear. That brought people together, and that’s why the ending of the film, which is very emblematic, is that Paris started to sing. It was a moment of brotherhood”, says the director about a moment of union that pushed him to make this film.

There is a parallelism between that symbol of the imperishable that one day burns, which is Notre Dame, and movie theaters, which after more than 100 years as an untouchable form of entertainment see their existence threatened by platforms. Annaud confirms that he has also thought of that metaphor, and that this was one of the reasons that made him “feel passionate about this project”. “You have to accept the new world of platforms, and you can do great things for television, but it’s not the same as cinema. The cinema has to have its specificity, remember that it is a show in which one is immersed, and we filmmakers have to make films so that people want to leave their homes and see things that they cannot see on their television”.



“I have also made this film thinking that it was a movie for theaters. A cinema that has made me dream since the beginning of my career, for which I have always fought, even against the principles of French cinema, and for which I have been reprimanded for not making the French cinema that needed to be made. I have made the cinema that I liked and the one that many other people liked, and I am grateful. I have understood that there is a deep modification of the consumption of the story in images. You can’t say it’s a movie when it’s paid for by a television, it’s made for a television, and it’s immediately put on a platform. Why go to the movies then? I think it is important that there is a place that remembers that the cinema is a great show like the opera. Cinema did not kill opera, and platforms cannot kill cinema. But, for that, the cinema has to be up to the task and make films that are worthwhile, if not…”, says Annaud frankly.

Notre Dame burns offers images that mix the beautiful and the terrifying, as was the case on that afternoon in April 2019, where sadness did not prevent many from highlighting the hypnotic nature of those images, something that Jean-Jacques Annaud also felt and that the firefighters themselves confirmed. “Almost all of them told me: ‘I’m embarrassed to say it, but it was beautiful like the opera.’ When you’re a firefighter you often go to the opera to make sure nothing happens, and when they told me that it made me think about it a lot, because right now I’m afraid to say it was magnificent, but that was a one-man show. unprecedented beauty. Fire is beautiful, it’s dangerous… and there’s something very cinematic about it. It’s like a very photogenic demon, and on the other side we have a dying princess, the most beautiful princess in France… I mince my words when I say it was beautiful, but even when we rebuilt the cathedral and the fire, that was a unprecedented spectacle of violence, danger and splendor”.



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