Review: Notre Dame
by Muriel Del Don
- The sixth film from Valérie Donzelli is a refreshing comedy in pastel tones that allows us to laugh at human imperfections
Four years after Marguerite & Julien [+see also:
film profile] (in official selection in Cannes), French director and actress Valérie Donzelli returns behind the camera to give us Notre Dame [+see also:
film profile], presented at the Piazza Grande of the Locarno Film Festival, a crackling and offbeat comedy that transforms sadness into shared joy.
Maud Crayon (played by the director), an architect who is a bit in disarray, single mother of two teenagers and crutch for an ex-husband who fails to take his own responsibilities, dreams of escaping from a reality that has become unbearable. Winner, against her will, of an extremely important architect competition which rewards the best renovation project for the square in front of Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral, Maud finds herself facing a series of unexpected and destabilising situations: an ex-fiance called Bacchus (the mysterious Pierre Deladonchamps) and a pregnancy that definitely wasn’t planned. Despite her reservations, in order to be happy, Maud will have to bring clarity into her life, revealing to former and current lovers what she really feels.
Notre Dame is a “feel-good movie”, a Prozac tablet that acts directly on the brain, releasing a welcome dose of serotonin. It is invigorating to realise that there still are directors who do not take themselves too seriously or run on the kind of mannered intellectualism which quickly turns from the cerebral into the indigestible. Cinema and art in general fortunately aren’t impervious to (auto) derision and to a healthy, necessary laugh.
The latest film from Valérie Donzelli successful combines formal rigour and existential lightness. The characters who inhabit this at times slightly surreal Paris are extremely human in their imperfections as “beautiful losers”. For them, imagination becomes a weapon, an escape from the stifling rigor of the real. “I adore comedies and burlesque cinema, I love it when things are ‘out of place’, it is a way of looking at the world that touches me, that brings with it a touch of humility and poetry”, explains the director, referring to the use of dreamlike moments in her film. “Poetry” and “humility” indeed summarise Notre Dame well, a film that becomes, thanks to its unique gaze, poetic and carefree. Even though the world certainly does not seem to be very well, the characters in Notre Dame do not let themselves slide into self-pity and miserabilism. On the contrary, they look at the present and the future with a dose of slightly surreal fatalism. In the parallel universe that Donzelli has created, making mistakes is accepted, if not inevitable.
With the offbeat and politically incorrect humour that characterises her work, Donzelli addresses the misery of the world through the prism of imagination. Maud allows us to observe the world through a deforming lens with pastel colours that transforms sadness into poetry, failure into victory.
(Translated from Italian)
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