18 March 2022.
NOTRE DAME BRULE **** (vo French)
As deviously slow-burning and finally ferociously-flaming as the fire that almost destroyed the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris in April 2019 – before the eyes of a horrified world, this reconstructed documentary by veteran director Jean-Jacques Annaud glows with a mixture of reality, suspense and frustration in trying to describe that infamous fire and those who fought it.
It is a mighty task he has taken on and once again he has done it to perfection, as with his incredibly varied works, which include “The Name of the Rose” from 1986, “The Lover” 1992, “Seven Years in Tibet” 1997, “Enemy at the Gates” 2001, or “Two Brothers” 2004. Films as diverse in theme as medieval religion, an erotic affair, a true story at the top of the world, the battle of Stalingrad, and two tiger cubs separated in childhood.
Now with this intense exploration of how the fire started, the muddled alerts, the delayed rescue due partially to the ancient structure (blocked doors, narrow stairwells, lost keys) of the cathedral, and the time lost by the firefighters due to severe traffic around the blaze, Annaud takes us literally into the flames, as he sets our hearts beating.
All the characters are here, from the fellow who tries to set off the alarm on his first day at work, to the top officers of the fire department, the undaunted firefighters, the masses of obstructing onlookers, to President Macron himself.
We are in the cathedral as they are trying to save precious relics and get the worshipers and tourists out of the fire; we have our hearts in our throats as we watch this great structure almost succumb to the devastating fire. It is mind-boggling how Annaud has managed to mix real footage with reconstructed images – this is both art and amazing reportage. As he says himself – he had a great star, the Cathedral, and a great villain/devil, the fire. Superb.
LAURENCE DEONNA – LIBRE **** (vo French)
It is not easy to capture the essence and soul of an exceptional woman in a documentary, but this film does just that. Deonna, now in her eighties, is a well-known and highly respected journalist in Geneva, where she was born into a fine bourgeois family. But she was a lovely, bright young woman who wanted to see the world and other cultures beyond the staid city of Calvin, as the title suggests.
And so her travels and adventures began, taking her to wars and conflicts in the Near and Middle East – to Yemen, Egypt, Palestine, Iran and other countries. Her distinct reporting brought those exotic places and their people to her Swiss readers. She continued her investigations in her many informative books, which she illustrated with her own photographs.
Director Nasser Bakhti illuminates this dynamic woman by taking us straight into her life, into her charming and cluttered apartment in the middle of Geneva, filled with memorabilia and masses of files on her travels, photos and books. She shared this home for many years with her Egyptian husband, Faragh Moussa, who was a tremendous support for her. She tells us of her voyages, her favorite haunts, her many loves, especially her years with Geneva’s great art dealer and collector, Jan Krugier. Here is a woman who led her life as she wished and was a trailblazer in the art of mixing femininity and feminism.
As she herself says, she was an “unguided missile… a woman who broke the rules…in a world sculpted by men…” She repeats, “La liberté, ça se paie…”
Bakhti uses her magnificent photographs, juxtaposing the old and the new, showing how flourishing cities like Sana’a, the storied capital of Yemen, or Baghdad, or Kabul once were, and how they have been destroyed today. It is revelatory and heartbreaking, as the film is both history and personal, a beautiful mixture.
Making up a solid writing, directing and film-producing team with his Swiss wife, Beatrice, Algerian-born Bakhti has long delved into exceptional characters in our Suisse Romande area. Their fascinating documentary series, “Romans d’ados, 2002-2008”, covered the lives of seven teens in Yverdon through six years of their lives. His later documentary, “Appia – Mémoires d’une oeuvre”, revealed the little-known artist who painted the ceiling of Geneva’s Victoria Hall. His method is to shine a light on lives that should be better known, as he has now done with the remarkable Laurence Deonna. A must-see.
À PLEIN TEMPS *** (vo French)
Compared to the two larger-than-life films above, this one is simply about a single mother’s incredibly hectic daily schedule. Living in the suburbs of Paris and working as head chamber maid in a Parisian grand hotel, she runs, hassles, worries, works, and runs again through her life, yet somehow remains loving and dedicated to her two children. Perfectly played by the sweet-faced Laure Calamy (excellent in “Antoinette in the Cevennes” and Netflix’s “Call my Agent”), this film shows the difficult existence of an ordinary, yet almost heroic woman. A fine tribute to those everyday, unsung troopers.
Director Eric Gravel runs this film on high octane – it was filmed during the awful strikes by the Gilets Jaunes – and it will have you exhausted but impressed by the end of it.
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Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.