Eiffel – Film Review

EIFFEL is based around the epic building of the 300-metre high Eiffel Tower in the late 1800s – at the time, the tallest building ever built.

Masterminded by the brilliant Gustave Eiffel, a structural engineer and architect who was integral to the construction of the Statue of Liberty, its building defied the odds on so many fronts.

No one thought such a massive structure, weighing some 10,100 tons, could be built so close to the Seine. Yet Gustave came up with revolutionary solutions (metal caissons and the use of injected compressed air) that have stood the test of time. One hundred and thirty three years old and still going strong.

Gustave also had to deal with labour issues that threatened its completion while financiers blew hot and cold over the project. Even the Vatican kicked off, complaining  that it dwarfed the nearby Notre Dame cathedral – while some high profile Parisians derided it as ‘useless and monstrous’.

It all makes for good cinema and some of the special effects are quite spectacular (for example, the tower slowly emerging phoenix like from the banks of the Seine). Hats off to the cinematographic touch of Marias Boucard.

What today’s health and safety officials would make of it all is unprintable – men hanging from girders as they bang bolts into holes and dangling precariously from ropes as they paint the steel construction red. Even Gustave walks on a tight rope of a girder with nothing but an almighty drop on either side. Fearless – but eminently watchable.

Yet Eiffel is not just about Gustave’s skill as a skilled engineer and architect.

Director Martin Bourboulon has chosen to weave into Eiffel another theme – namely the on off relationship between Gustave (an exceptional Romain Duris: Populaire, Heartbreaker, The New Girlfriend) and Adrienne Bourges (an equally marvellous Emma Mackey: Sex Education, Death on the Nile, Barbie).

A theme – an epic love story – that is loosely based on fact, but laced with dollops of fiction. In Bourboulon’s defence, some descendants of Gustave have described the film as a ‘beautiful tribute to our ancestor’.

Some viewers will find the love angle distracting and rather annoying (more rivets, please). Others will find it engrossing, helped by the obvious on-screen connection between Duris (all smiles) and Mackey (big eyes like those of Bambi).

The film, that seamlessly switches between Gustave’s early life as an architect in Bordeaux and him overseeing the Eiffel project, puts their passionate love affair at its heart. It’s fraught with heartache, although we don’t understand the reason for Adrienne’s sudden disappearance from his early life until towards the end of the film. Their relationship is rekindled during the building of the Eiffel, much to the annoyance of Adrienne’s husband Antoine (Pierre Deladonchamps) who is prepared to do anything to keep her. Once a friend to Gustave  (and key to him going ahead with the Eiffel project), journalist Antoine threatens to become his nemesis.

At under two hours long, Eiffel never bores, constantly pleasing on the eye. There are some super supporting performances from Armande Boulanger (Gustave’s daughter who is remarkably tolerant of her father’s distracted nature) and Bruno Raffaelli who is Adrienne’s overbearing father and riven with self-importance and class prejudice. Bourgeoisie. Yet it’s Duris, Mackey and Boucard’s cinematography that steal the show.

Was the tower’s  ‘A’ shape a tribute to Adrienne? Like most of Eiffel, we don’t know. Fact and fiction are as intertwined as Gustave and Adrienne’s bodies are for amorous chunks of this film.

Eiffel – In cinemas 12th August 

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