Review: Eiffel Reimagines Building Paris’s Iconic Landmark as an Act of Grand Romance

I’ll give the makers of Eiffel credit for their honesty in an opening title card that proclaims the film is “freely inspired by a true story.” In director Martin Bourbolon’s (Divorce French Style) story of the inspiration and creation of Paris’s Eiffel Tower, he gives us a passionate tale of forbidden love between Gustave Eiffel (the great Romain Duris) and Adrienne Bourgès (Emma Mackey, Sex Education; Death on the Nile), who were lovers in their youth until a tragic accident (and her parents) tore them apart. The pair are reunited years later, shortly after Eiffel completed his triumphant work on the Statue of Liberty and just before he’s about to submit his designs for the tower as part of a competition during the 1889 Paris World Fair.

At first, Eiffel wants to design the city’s subway, but after he runs into the woman who broke his heart, he changes his tune (according to the film, the tower isn’t shaped like a giant ‘A’ by accident) and he went on to risk his reputation and his career to make certain the 300-meter tower got finished on schedule and even if the government pulled its financing. Written by Caroline Bongrand, Eiffel always pays particular attention to the relationship between Gustave and his daughter Claire (Armande Boulanger, a supporting player in Portrait of a Lady on Fire). After his wife died, Claire was the architect’s support system and harshest critic, both of which were essential to his success.

Admittedly, it’s a bit bizarre to see a French period piece with as many special effects shots as Eiffel, but in order to get a sense of how the tower was constructed against the Paris skyline at the end of the 19th century, a few bits of movie magic had to be employed. Still, the idea of recontextualizing what should be a satisfying biopic or historical drama into this emotionally heightened romantic fiction seems questionable at best. I mean, it is a French movie, so I guess everything needs to be forced through a romantic filter. But it feels unwise and unnecessary even with such strong performers at its core. The film is loaded with betrayal, miscommunications, family drama, bad press, and full-on corruption in the highest levels of government, but in the end it’s the story of the ultimate act of love on a grand, metallic scale. What’s more romantic than that? Actually a lot of things, but if you’re something of a Francophile like me, Eiffel seems like a film you need to see; the rest of you, stick with the Top Gun sequel, I guess.

The film is now playing theatrically.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.