“Life taught me to avoid surprises,” Romain Duris’ Gustave Eiffel says when showcasing the model of his iconic tower to investors, demonstrating pioneering plans to safeguard it against the elements. Unfortunately, lack of invention is exactly the problem with Eiffel.
This is a semi-fictional, “freely inspired by a true story” telling of the French monument’s conception, construction, and the romantic connection threaded through Eiffel’s life that (the film supposes) inspired it. Sex Education star Emma Mackey is Adrienne, an upper-class girl Eiffel fell in love with as a youngster, whom he runs into decades later as the construction of his namesake tower is getting off the ground. Only problem? She’s married now.
Emma Mackey is underused, her character verging on the well-worn 'manic pixie dream girl' trope at times.
The love story here is fairly predictably told. Mackey is luminous in her first French-speaking role, making it easy to understand why Adrienne is seen as so extraordinary through Eiffel’s eyes — but she’s vastly underused, and her surplus of charisma can’t make up for Duris’ dearth of it. Her character verges on the well-worn ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope at times, especially during flashbacks to their younger years. She is a beautiful myth, rather than a fully developed person, and while that perhaps feeds into the poetic licence embedded in Eiffel s plot, it makes for unsatisfying viewing.
There are some nice touches visually — a long take capturing Adrienne and Gustave on a dancefloor escalates the tension and their chemistry; shots of them atop the half-built tower at golden hour are divine — but the impact is dimmed by the film’s dreary, sepia-toned aesthetic. It may feel appropriate for the period, but sucks a lot of the life out of what should be a swooning, vibrant story.
Most fascinating are the insights into the construction of the iconic French monument itself — the politics, the pushback from Parisians about it being an eyesore, Eiffel’s pioneering approach to safety and architectural invention, a nail-biting scene where we see him and his team attempt to get the base of the tower precisely level. The nitty-gritty of just how this landmark came to life is far more interesting than the film’s speculation about how Eiffel’s love for Adrienne influenced it — a feeling intensely magnified by an eye-rolling final shot.