Eiffel (2021) ☆☆(2/4): Shouldn’t it focus more on the tower itself?

French film “Eiffel” is supposed to be about the story behind that historical steel tower in Paris, but it turns out to focus more on a rather plain and uninteresting romance tale which is entirely fictional in fact. No, I do not mind at all mixing some fictional elements into its real-life story, but the result is not particularly engaging without giving us any insight or emotional truth about its real-life hero, and it only works whenever its attention is swayed toward the numerous technical difficulties of his tower.

Although that tower has been one of the irreplaceable emblems of Paris for more than 100 years, things were not so easy for Gustave Eiffel (Romain Duris) right from the beginning, and the early part of the film shows us a number of obstacles on his way to what would eventually become the crowning achievement of his professional career. While he and his construction company have been well-respected for years thanks to his ambition as well a bunch of workers and engineers working under him, his proposal of building the 300-meter (around 984 feet) steel tower right in the middle of Paris for the upcoming exposition does not look exactly charming to many Parisians, and he has to fight much more for his tower even after his proposal is accepted in the end.

Besides persuading those skeptical financiers, Eiffel also needs some good publicity for his tower, and that is where Antoine de Restac (Pierre Deladonchamps) enters. As a considerably influential journalist in Paris, de Restac may change the current public opinion on Eiffel’s tower, and it surely helps that he also has some strings to pulled from the French government.

At a dinner party where he attends along with de Restac, Eiffel comes across de Restac’s wife Adrienne (Emma Mackey), who, as gradually revealed to us via a series of flashback scenes, was once very close to Eiffel. Although Eiffel tries to ignore her as much as possible, it soon turns out that Adrienne still has some feelings toward him, and, what do you know, Eiffel finds himself trembled by those old feelings between them as they meet again later.

Frequently alternating between their present and past, the movie tries to present Eiffel and Adrienne as your average star-crossed lovers, but it fails to generate enough passion and interest due to many predictable aspects. Right from when Eiffel and Adrienne meet each other for the first time, we know well that their young romance is doomed due to their considerable class difference, and we are not so surprised by how they end up being separated from each other due to her stern conservative father. In case of Adrienne’s husband, it soon becomes pretty evident to us that this petty prick will be another big obstacle for Eiffel in one way or another, and we are not so shocked when he later pushes both Eiffel and Adrienne into a moment of impossible choice.

Above all, Roman Duris and Emma Mackey somehow fail to generate enough romantic chemistry between their characters. While they are surely good performers equipped with each own presence, they often struggle with rather rote dialogues handed to them, and I must point out that Duris actually generates more interest and energy with Armande Boulanger, who plays Eiffel’s eldest daughter Claire. As a smart and independent young woman who willingly assists her father as much as she can, Claire does not step back at all in case of choosing a man to live with for the rest of her life, and Eiffel cannot say no because 1) he knows too well that she cannot be stopped and 2) he trusts her judgment even though he cannot discern what she sees from a lad who looks rather unremarkable to him.

In case of Eiffel’s tower, the movie surely gives us glimpses into how carefully and thoroughly Eiffel and his engineers and workers prepared and then worked right from their very first step, and that is actually the most interesting part in the film. I like a brief scene where Eiffel demonstrates several safety measures for his tower, and I also enjoyed the scene where Eiffel enthusiastically shows a government official how he and his engineers and workers can prepare the firm base ground for the tower.

The last act of the movie has some dramatic tension as the negative public opinion against Eiffel’s tower is increased day by day, but, sadly, the screenplay by Caroline Bongrand resolves the story too quickly and conveniently. While Duris has a mandatory moment for big speech around that point, this moment feels merely perfunctory, and then the movie hurries itself toward its expected ending without enough dramatic effect. Yes, we surely behold the emotions barely suppressed between our two main characters, but we do not see enough good reason for why we should feel sorry for them, and our eyes accordingly pay more attention to the tower, whose challenging construction process could be the source of a much more interesting story in my humble opinion.

On the whole, “Eiffle” is technically competent under the good direction of director Marin Bourboulon, and I appreciate its several good technical aspects including the score by ever-reliable Alexandre Desplat, but I remain mostly cold and distant to its story and characters without much interest. To be frank with you, the movie only reminds me that I have never been to Eiffel’s tower, let alone Paris. I guess that should be rectified sooner or later once I can afford to travel to Paris without any worry on COVID-19 virus or any other problematic pathogen in the near future.

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