‘Notre-Dame’ Review: Netflix Shows the Monumental Tragedy from Ground Level

On April 15th, 2019, the world stopped in its tracks to witness a tragedy that would bring the world together. The fire at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris became a media phenomenon not seen since the World Trade Center tragedy was broadcast in 2001. The ancient cathedral showed the world why it is one of the most important monuments ever built. It didn’t matter that the building is very much owned by the French people; for one moment, we all felt the desperation of trying to save a monument that had survived so much already. Netflix is ready to show us how it was done.

Notre-Dame is a series developed by Netflix and created by Hervé Hadmar who also writes and directs the six-episode limited series. The show stars Roschdy Zem, Meghan Northam, Caroline Proust, Simon Abkarian, Alice Isaaz, and Marie Zabukovec. The series tells the story of the fire that occurred at the cathedral site on April 15th, 2019. The series shows the tragedy by jumping among different points of view, representing the different kinds of people that live in the city and how the tragedy affected them.

The Notre-Dame fire was really something to behold, an event that joined the collective minds of the entire planet. Many prayers were sent that day. Not only for the safety of the building, a true historical site that reflects the kind of medieval architecture in all of its glory, but also for the lives of the people trying to mitigate such a fire. The series focuses very much on those people who lived in Paris and were the first witnesses to the event. Some characters, of course, are members of the firemen’s brigades that worked on the site, but there are many more others that don’t.

The tragedy not only impacted those who had to go into the fire to save the building. It also impacted the people that could be in danger in the surrounding area, but it also affected every citizen living in Paris in some way or another. One of the first things the citizens of Paris thought of the events was that it was another terrorist attack. However, it seems that the fire itself had a more mundane source, a collection of casualties that led to the building catching fire.

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The series consists of only 6 episodes, and it is very clear that there is a lot of love put into the series. The production values are quite solid, and the scenes where the firemen have to go inside the burning building are very well-made. There are many examples here of very well-done visual effects, the kind that you miss because you are not supposed to them see unless you are looking. The fact that most of these visual effects shots remain hidden from the eye at a first glance, speaks of their quality.

When it comes to storytelling, the series decides to take the point of view of many people on the ground level. Firemen, politicians, kids, escorts, basically everyone in Paris, or at least a representation of these kinds of people, get to have a point of view on the show. It is really impressive to see how people that you thought would not care for the fate of a building end up caring the most. Notre Dame isn’t just a building in the city of Paris. For the people living there, the cathedral is part of their identity.

The ensemble cast that joins the show to play all these characters does an amazing job. The cast is a mix of veterans and newcomers. Film fans will certainly catch well-known faces as they go through the series, as well as discover some new great talent that certainly needs a platform to show off their acting work. Meghan Northam might be the standout of the cast. Her face becomes the face of the show for most of the episodes as she plays one of the firemen who went inside the building while the fire was still raging.

Hervé Hadmar directs with confidence, and he is able to jump between very epic and intimate scenes with ease. This is the kind of work the series calls for, and he is up to the task. The script is a bit more flimsy, as some stories feel a bit stretched out or forced into the narrative in ways that don’t really make sense from a thematic level. It would have been great if all the cast could have been linked to the tragedy in a more meaningful way. As it is, it is still good. You understand very well why everybody is feeling the way they do.

In the end, Notre-Dame, serves as an excellent document that shows just how much the fire at Notre Dame impacted the lives of the people living in Paris. And why was it so important, not only for France but for the world, that such a building needed to be saved. Art is truly a reflection of who we are on Earth, and why it is only just a building made out of rock and wood, the meaning humans have imported onto it cannot be classified. Notre Dame becomes a good binge-watch thanks to its rhythm and meaning.

SCORE: 8/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.