Valérie Donzelli, Pierre Deladonchamps, Thomas Scimeca, Virginie Ledoyen
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…it’s saccharine at times and terribly French, but it’s also fun and playful.
Maud Crayon (Valérie Donzelli) is a single parent and architect at a small Paris firm. She’s incapable of anything approaching decisiveness and assertiveness, so she’s often berated by her overbearing boss, Greg (Samir Guesmi) and is paralyzed with indecision on whether she should boot the freeloading, feckless father of her kids (her dim-witted ex), Martial (Thomas Scimeca) out of her house. Things reach an even more surreal level when a Teletubbies-esque diorama she builds in order to sell a playground design project, is whisked away by a night storm wind like a magical realism carpet, whizzing across the Paris city-scape and submitting itself for the hotly contested (and highly sought after) Notre Dame esplanade re-design contest.
Bizarrely, her entry is selected by the Mayor’s Office and she is hurriedly thrust into a highly publicised design and construction phase. Maud’s previous ex, a TV Journalist named Bacchus Renard (Pierre Deladonchamps), turns up to document the entire process, ultimately spending a lot of time hanging around and inevitably making it easy to rekindle old desires.
Ratcheting the dial up to ‘maximum twee’, Notre Dame weaponises giddy positivity and plays with the narrative form as Writer/Director/Lead Valérie Donzelli utilises dance numbers, intermittent voiceover and even fast paced editing to create what is intended as a franco rom-com antidote to the doom and gloom of our world.
Throughout the film, we hear TV and radio programs in the background of scenes narrating the malaise of modern western life. We see everyday people in the street being weirdly aggressive and confrontational and homeless immigrants sleeping in makeshift shelters across the street from Maud’s house. It urges the audience to just go with the ephemeral frothiness of the plot and to have fun. So, yes, it’s saccharine at times and terribly French, but it’s also fun and playful. Overall, it’s an earnest, if not bafflingly inane, French cream puff.