Eiffel tower

‘Eiffel’ review: The silly romance that inspired the Eiffel Tower

A handsome but sometimes wacky addition to the ‘big man’ genre – with the added implication that such heroic feats might not have happened without an equally impressive lady working behind the scenes – ‘Eiffel’ offers the story half-invented by Gustave Eiffel, the civil engineer who built the world’s most recognizable monument.

From the first seconds, the CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.66:1 is a clue that this project was not designed to capture the vertical progress of the construction of the Eiffel Tower (if that were the case, a screen vertical iPhone might be better suited). On the contrary, director Martin Bourboulon’s choice to shoot in the same ultra-wide format as “The Bridge on the River Kwai” signals that the film will remain firmly rooted at ground level, centered on the man Eiffel (Romain Duris, a modern French star with the right mix of anger and sensibility for the role) and the more melodramatic details of his personal life.

Not a biopic so much as a sliver of historical fiction, “Eiffel” identifies itself as “loosely inspired by real events,” which roughly translates to “an invented pot of hooey.” Then again, dry factual bait-and-switch events for a soapy affair between lovers of distinct classes worked well enough for “Titanic” – although that film did have the sinking of an ocean liner up its sleeve. As with James Cameron’s film, audiences already know the ending (although it’s supposed to fall after the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower is still standing), but Bourboulon is unable to deliver a point. culmination as spectacular.

As the filmmaker cannot afford to show much of late 19th century Paris, although we would like to see it, he concentrates his dynamic energy (the characters and the cameras are constantly moving) to offer impressive views of the struts of the upcoming tower. together in an empty field, building a moving scene where the massive legs are first raised, then lowered to reach the first level. Surer still, Bourboulon hatches second-rate romance, rather than detailing the rich, real-life drama that swirled around Eiffel’s controversial venture. He set out to concoct a “Citizen Kane”-style rosebud at the base of the 300-meter iron landmark. Since we are dealing with how France’s most famous phallic symbol was erected, it stands to reason that the motif should be a woman.

To inspire such a feat, it can’t be just any old lady. By the late 1880s, when the tower was commissioned, Eiffel was a world-famous celebrity, having built bridges, train stations, and the skeleton that underpins the Statue of Liberty. According to Jill Jonnes’ “The Eiffel Tower” (worth reading for those interested in the backstory), the young Eiffel embarked on several wedding plans, eventually enlisting the help of his wife. mother to find a wife. “Really, what I need is a good housewife who doesn’t annoy me too much, who is as faithful as possible and who gives me beautiful children,” he wrote at the time.

That’s not at all how one might describe Adrienne Bourgès, the proto-feminist firecracker whom Bourboulon presents as Eiffel’s love interest (played by relative newcomer Emma Mackey from the Netflix series “Sex Education” , with his big eyes, strong jawline and architectural cheekbones). Much of the film is told through flashbacks, memories that flood in as Eiffel draws (or rather, endlessly draws drawings of) his tower. And so, we meet Adrienne more than two decades after Eiffel, at an awkward reunion – a dinner party where Eiffel, who had once been seen to be rejected for a publically useless project, suddenly announces his plans to build a tower twice as tall as the recently completed Washington Monument.

According to Eiffel’s vision, the structure will be accessible to all — “no more class divisions,” he says. This admirable goal may sound political, though in fact the comment is intended as a rebuke to Adrienne, whose relatively well-to-do family wouldn’t let them get married all those years sooner. The fact that Eiffel does not realize the real reason why she abandoned him gives the film its tragic dimension – that and the obstacle that she is now married to an old acquaintance of his, Antoine de Restac (Pierre Deladonchamps) .

A delicate isosceles the triangle forms as Eiffel and Adrienne rekindle their old passions – though Adrienne soon realizes there’s another party competing for her lover’s attention: the famous iron Lady (or “iron lady”), the tower itself. Seeing that her husband holds the kind of influence with the press, financiers, and committee that could cancel the project, Adrienne ultimately decides to drop the case so Eiffel can complete her creation. Although poetic, this development implies that the tower’s detractors may not have been sincere in their opposition, but simply manipulated by Restac’s small personal agenda (to save his marriage). In fact, opponents of the monument – which included such eminent figures as author Guy de Maupassant and painter Ernest Meissonier – were aesthetically outraged, decrying the industrial-looking stain on Paris rooftops as “useless and monstrous”. and an “odious column of bolted metal.”

Alas, this revisionist idea deprives the public of the fascinating historical conflict at the heart of the construction of the tower. A more honest account should reflect a sad truth about human nature: more often than not, our species resists bold innovation, so many beloved landmarks faced harsh criticism when announced. for the first time. Consider the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, which overcame a year-long whisper campaign against its outlandish design and outsized cost, or Parisian facilities such as the Center Pompidou (still considered an eyesore by some) and the unpopular new glass roof of Les Halles, which – like the Eiffel Tower – clashed with the city’s redesigned style implemented a few decades earlier by Baron Haussmann.

Perhaps Bourboulon found the initial resistance to the project and the sea change in public opinion too bureaucratic for his purposes, focusing instead on the effective but largely romanticized romance. But what is such an invention for? By the time the film’s cheesy penultimate shot arrives – a nod to the tower’s A-shape that makes it impossible not to see the influence of Eiffel’s imaginary muse – we just don’t know. how the job was done. At least one thing is certain: we should be grateful that he didn’t fall for someone named Wanda.