Anyone who watches Martin Bourboulon’s film Eiffel, about the eponymous builder of the great Parisian tower, and who knows the slightest history of its construction, will wonder what went wrong. The great story of Gustave Eiffel – one of the greatest Frenchmen of his generation and one of the greatest engineers in the world – and the public response in turn should provide enough material for a great feature film, without having recourse to the invention. However, that’s exactly what Caroline Bongrand’s screenplay does, assuming the audience is so thick that without a ridiculous romantic subplot, they wouldn’t be able to care about Eiffel at all.
Clever viewers must, if they go into it expecting an honest account of Eiffel’s life, feel cheated and insulted. It’s a huge missed opportunity for French cinema, because Eiffel’s life was quite remarkable, and they should be bragging about it, not trivializing it.
He had nothing to do with the flamboyant and sullen artist – a sort of Rodin of iron and steel – whom Romain Duris embodies brilliantly in this film. He was a serious and devoted engineer and entrepreneur who ended up being one of the greatest men in the history of France.
Eiffel’s architectural heritage stretches across Europe, from the great railway bridge over the Garonne (the only truthful aspect of the sub-park) to the Budapest train station. He also built part of the Statue of Liberty, which (like the tower in Paris) still stands today thanks in large part to the quality of Eiffel’s construction techniques.
The film leaves out Eiffel’s success as a science student which was the basis of his success as an engineer. He fell into this profession almost by accident when, in the mid-1850s, the famous French railway engineer Charles Nepveu took him on as his private secretary.