The battle to build the Paris landmark offers rather more gripping moments in this new French film than a romantic subplot, described as the driving force behind the creation of the tower.
“You’ll never look at it the same way again,” proclaims the promotional spiel for Eiffel, a new film about the tall Parisian tower.
Directed by Martin Bourboulon, it’s a highly watchable French-language film that promises a new narrative to explain why Gustave Eiffel, after being apathetic about entering the competition to design a new monument, suddenly burst into flames of great enthusiasm for the project. This led him not only to triumph in the contest, but to tenaciously carry out his 300m high vision to its completion as the focal point of the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.
This change of heart, the film suggests, was not due to a grand architectural epiphany, but spurred on by a rekindled passion for a lost love, Adrienne Bourgés. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how Eiffel (Romain Duris) and Bourgés (Emma Mackey) had a whirlwind relationship some 20 years earlier, but their engagement was suddenly broken.
This is known to be true. The film’s intriguing proposal has them reunited in Paris for the architectural competition as he is fresh from his work on the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Eager to impress her, he takes on the contest challenge with renewed vigor, recapturing some of the dashing spirit of his younger self. Unable at first to openly convey his love (she is now married), he instead uses the bold scheme to express his love. As he struggles to get his tower built, they begin a once again doomed affair.
There’s plenty to enjoy, including Eiffel’s stunning presentation of the design to the judges, involving a spectacular demonstration of how it will withstand lightning and wind. Then there are the hardships of construction as Eiffel goes from the glory of victory to being reviled by all – local residents fear it will crumble on them, the Vatican is angry to steal the glory of Notre-Dame, its donors are cooling their feet and even the artists of Paris are opposed to it.
Eiffel speaks of the tower as a landmark of Paris that can be enjoyed by all, and we are encouraged to see the tower as part of an emerging modern era, with the film also highlighting the first automobile, then a phenomenon very new.
The film enlisted the services of six architects and 12 engineers to construct the set, and the construction of the early stages is captivating, especially the drama of the four legs connected to form the platform for the first level. I’m not sure I really understood the technical intricacies of Eiffel’s system for building the foundations so close to the Seine, but they clearly must have worked as intended, despite a few rope moments shown in the film for dramatic effect additional.
We don’t get much information about the characters. Although presented as a love story, the battle to build the tower seemed rather more compelling than the romance of the protagonists. So it’s hard to feel emotionally invested in them, even in the fiery Bourgés, who gets a particularly raw treatment, with the film imagining a highly melodramatic – and tragic – breakup of her engagement.
Yet in this account, it is her self-sacrifice that allows the tower to be completed, since her well-connected husband had suggested that if she left him for Eiffel, it could lead to funding difficulties for the tower.
There’s no way to know if this fantasy could ever have been more than just fantasy, although it seems likely the two did indeed meet again since, in real life, Eiffel’s son married Bourges’ niece. But it is certainly a pleasing conceit. And it’s a script that seems to have the blessing of Eiffel’s descendants, who have endorsed the film as “a beautiful tribute to our ancestor.”
But while it could, in theory, be possible that the tower was fueled by Eiffel’s desire to impress his old, newfound flame, the grand denouement at the end surely stretches credulity too far. When at last (spoiler alert) we got to see what Eiffel, fresh from the triumphant completion of his tower, furiously sketched at certain points in the film, it turns out to be Bourgés’ first name, Adrienne , the A in the distinctive form of the tower.
How lucky, my viewing mate remarked, that her name doesn’t start with a less cooperative letter, such as P. But that nonsense aside, this is a pretty nice romantic architecture thread that sheds some light indeed a different light on the tower.
Eifeel hits UK and Irish theaters on August 12. Duration: 108 min / Cert TBC ??