Directed by Martin Bourboulon.
Starring Romain Duris, Emma Mackey, Pierre Deladonchamps, Armande Boulanger and Bruno Raffaelli.
As he prepares to build the monument that would define Paris, Gustave Eiffel is visited by a face from his past.
I’ve never given much thought to why the Eiffel Tower is the shape that it is. But in an era where everything from Iron Man to Kenneth Branagh’s tremendous Poirot moustache has origin story potential, it’s perhaps no surprise that French writer Caroline Bongrand saw something in the tale behind the Tower. Her script for Eiffel is cheekily described in the opening text as being “freely inspired” by the true life of Gustave Eiffel, who conceived and built the famous structure in the 19th century.
This take on the story is a swooning, melodramatic romance spanning the best part of 50 years. It traces Eiffel’s (Romain Duris) journey from a young, idealistic bridge builder to the “iron magician” who created Paris’s most enduring symbol. His architectural exploits are recounted alongside his turbulent liaison with the pampered Adrienne (Emma Mackey), who resurfaces in his life as a married woman decades after she appeared to snub him at the height of their initial romance.
Subtlety is, it’s fair to say, not Eiffel‘s strong point. Director Martin Bourboulon tells the story with the hysterical sweep of a classic romantic drama, all soft lighting, golden hour sunsets and stolen glances between forbidden lovers. But there’s something irresistible about this ridiculousness, with the movie joyously waving farewell to realism or credulity and revelling in its fantasy portrait of a man driven to build a 300-metre slice of over-compensation in an attempt to mend his broken heart.
The unusual tonal confection of the film is evident in the lead performance, with the charismatic Duris adding a shade of slightly pitiful masculinity to Eiffel. At times, though, it seems as if this characterisation of the man behind the tower is scuffling against the script, which wants to position him as a once in a lifetime hero and genius capable of innumerable witty retorts and an answer to everything. This is, at times, at odds with Duris’s intriguing portrayal of someone who’s pathetic beneath the bravado and willing to push his skills and abilities to their limits because a pretty woman dared him to do so.
But it’s easy to see why Eiffel acts as he does. Whenever Duris shares the screen with Sex Education star Emma Mackey – a surprise for those who, like me, didn’t know she had French in her locker – there’s a palpable, fiery chemistry. She sees him as a smart, charming escape from her wealthy family and there’s an intellectual stimulation on both sides of their relationship that is every bit as passionate as their physical attraction. Mackey’s performance is smartly modulated to convey the giggling energy of the young Adrienne as well as the repressed, quieter woman she has become as a result of grief and her passion-free marriage.
The energy of these two performances largely sustains Eiffel, which is much better when the romance is on screen than when it’s wading through the political wranglings and union disputes of the construction of the tower. This is a movie designed to be played with a screeching score and sentimental melodrama at its heart – over-cranked drama befitting the enormous spectacle of the tower itself.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.