Eiffel review – famed tower builder gets brazenly high backstory | Film

Stowering absurdity and giddy silliness here… and a bit of innocent fun too. Eiffel is a beautifully produced period drama, a Lloyd-Webber-style romantic fantasy about the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889 in Paris for the 100th anniversary of the revolution. Screenwriter Caroline Bongrand imagines (meaning entirely invents) a backstory for the great engineer Gustave Eiffel, a great passion that inspired him to build the tower as his own private Taj Mahal for a lost and secret love.

Eiffel is played with authority and brilliance – as well as various frock coats, top hats and beard lengths – by Romain Duris. In real life, he was a widower with five children when he embarked on the tower, but this drama tells how, as a young man, he had a doomed love affair with the daughter of a provincial snob: it’s Adrienne, played by Franco-British actor Emma Mackey (Maeve, from Netflix’s Sex Education). Adrienne had broken Gustave’s heart by disappearing one day without a word; her father frostily informs Gustave that she has simply lost interest in him. Thus, later in life, he is amazed to find her at the very center of the fashionable society of the Belle Époque; she is the wife of her acquaintance Antoine (Pierre Deladonchamps), an influential journalist and publisher who is able to turn political and public opinion against Eiffel and its ultra-modern tower. There is clearly still a spark there: so why, oh why, did it just disappear that day?

It is Bongrand’s boldness to invent this swooning novel for Gustave Eiffel; even more cheeky to borrow the plot from Casablanca, with Eiffel as Humphrey Bogart, once again heartbroken when her Ingrid Bergman suddenly pops up on another man’s arm. They will always have Paris, but then again they could have Paris right now. It’s all executed with taste and good humor, and the digital fabrications of the tower itself, rising from the ground in stages with dangerous and scary structural works, are entertainingly designed.

Eiffel hits theaters on August 12.

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