×

Locarno Film Review: ‘Notre dame’

While aiming to be a humorous riposte to an anger-filled society, “Notre dame” relies on

With:
Valérie Donzelli, Pierre Deladonchamps, Thomas Scimeca

Running time: 89 MIN.

Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following her historical misfire “Marguerite and Julian.”

Despite wanting to be a cathartically humorous riposte to an anger-filled society, this story of a meek architect unexpectedly awarded the contract to redesign Notre-Dame’s esplanade (pre-conflagration) relies on an insufferable combination of flaky absurdism mixed with saccharine insouciance, all packaged like a chirpy sitcom in which dripping snot is played as a big laugh-getter. Timing however may well play to Donzelli’s advantage, at least until the reviews come out.

Cheeriness is the film’s leitmotif, pitched at a level generally reserved for children in the pre-verbal stage. News reports about depression and malaise fill the airwaves, random acts of aggression are witnessed on the streets, homeless East European women are camping on the sidewalks, but Donzelli subsumes them all with sheer inanity. Maud Crayon (Donzelli) is the kind of person who can’t commit to change: She’s too mousey to stand up to her dictatorial boss, Greg (Samir Guesmi, one-note), and too wishy-washy to refuse her bed to her ex, Martial (Thomas Scimeca). A cartoonish maquette for a playground she’s designed is treated with disdain by Greg, but magically one night it flies out her window like the Holy House of Loreto and miraculously lands among the models vying for the lucrative Notre-Dame esplanade contest (that is a literal description of what happens, not a catty one).

The mayor’s office loves her unplanned proposal and awards her the contract; as if that’s not overwhelming enough, her partner before Martial, a journalist named Bacchus Renard (Pierre Deladonchamps) appears on the scene to report on the project, and she faints dead away. Life has suddenly become overwhelming: Maud’s fallen back in love with Bacchus, who’s never gotten over his adoration for her, and all Paris eagerly awaits the unveiling of a blueprint for her esplanade design. Unfortunately for Maud, she allows her vision to be taken over by some hotshot architects who turn her Playmobil tubes into giant phalluses, scandalizing all of France.

The script’s ridiculousness snowballs as Donzelli grasps for ever-nuttier twists and turns, accumulating tiresome absurdities as if she’s unsuccessfully grappling with a major case of ADD. She seems to have also pushed that on her regular editor Pauline Gaillard, given the number of cuts per minute. And why suddenly toss in a superfluous narrator just beyond the 20-minute mark, while wasting the comic talents of Bouli Lanners as her colleague Didier?

It appears that Donzelli thought that unmodulated caricature could make some kind of light-hearted statement about releasing ourselves from our personal straightjackets, yet the twee nature of it all is enervating, not liberating. At least money was saved on the costumes, since everyone inexplicably wears more or less the same thing for every occasion. Yes, there are attractive shots of Notre-Dame, possibly the last to appear in film before the fire, but the creeping sadness that takes hold of viewers who inevitably think about the destruction goes counter to the movie’s tone and jumbles things even further.

Popular on Variety

Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande), Aug. 10, 2019. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: (France-Belgium) An Ad Vitam (in France) release of a Rectangle Prods., France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, Les Films de Françoise production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Ciné Plus, France Télévisions, Ad Vitam, Playtime, in association with Cinémage 13, Palatine Etoile 16, Cinécap 2, Indéfilms 7, Playtime. (Int'l sales: Playtime, Paris.) Producers: Alice Girard, Edouard Weil.

Crew: Director: Valérie Donzelli. Screenplay: Donzelli, Benjamin Charbit. Camera (color): Lazare Pedron. Editor: Pauline Gaillard. Music: Philippe Jakko.

With: Valérie Donzelli, Pierre Deladonchamps, Thomas Scimeca, Bouli Lanners, Virginie Ledoyen, Isabelle Candelier, Philippe Katerine, Claude Perron, Samir Guesmi, Pauline Serieys, Nafsica Labrakos, Benjamin Ewers, Léo Poulet. Narrator: Ulysse Korolitski.

More Film

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Jason Lei Howden, Samara Weaving and

    Daniel Radcliffe On Acting With Weapons Nailed To Your Hands

    How did “Guns Akimbo” director and writer Jason Lei Howden convince Daniel Radcliffe to play a character with guns nailed to his hands? Easy, he sent him the script. Radcliffe joined Howden and “Ready or Not’s” breakout star Samara Weaving in the Variety’s Toronto Film Festival studio, presented by AT&T to talk the limits of [...]

  • Box Office: It Chapter Two Maintains

    Box Office: 'It: Chapter Two' Continues International Reign With $47 Million

    Pennywise’s reign of terror hasn’t wavered: Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” maintained first place on box office charts, led by another strong showing overseas. The sequel, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, generated another $47 million at the international box office for a foreign tally of $169 million. After two weeks of release, “It Chapter [...]

  • First still from the set of

    Taika Waititi’s 'Jojo Rabbit' Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Festival Awards

    Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The honor positions the film for a potential Oscar run and bolsters its awards chances. That’s good news for Fox Searchlight, which must have been disappointed by the lackluster critical reception for the movie, a dark comedy [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content