The city of love provides a lustrous backdrop to a plodding historical romance, which suggests the A-shaped landmark at the beating heart of Paris was a tribute to a younger woman who beguiled Alexandre Gustave Eiffel.
Caroline Bongrand’s screenplay claims to be “freely inspired by a true story” but there is no rigorous historical evidence that the tower, which dominates the skyline of the French capital, was built in honour of Adrienne de Restac.
Regardless, director Martin Bourboulon’s film swoons giddily at the prospect of amour fou as a catalyst for one of the great feats of 19th-century engineering.
Eiffel sketches forbidden love over the course of almost 30 years, galvanised by simmering screen chemistry between Romain Duris and Emma Mackey, which almost reaches boiling point during an expertly choreographed dance sequence, captured in a single fluid take by cinematographer Matias Boucard.
He shoots characters in silhouette against the ochre glow of a setting sun and bathes a sex scene in flickering firelight.
The script lacks the same warmth, treating the marvels of Eiffel’s design, social unrest and workforce insurrection as the footnotes of a sweeping old-fashioned melodrama.
“You gaze at your tower like a man in love,” Adrienne coos at Eiffel.
I wish I could regard Bourboulon’s picture with the same passion.
In 1889, three years after French civil engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (Duris) accepts an honorary citizenship of the United States of America for his contribution to the Statue of Liberty, the so-called “iron magician” pursues his dream of building a metro system in the French capital for the upcoming World’s Fair.
To press his case, Eiffel enlists the help of an old friend from prep school, Antoine de Restac (Pierre Deladonchamps), who is a journalist with close ties to the Minister of Commerce.
Alas, the Minister rejects Eiffel’s suggestion and demands something more ambitious to showcase France as a powerhouse of construction and design.
Adding to the chorus of disapproval is Antoine’s wife Adrienne (Mackey), who happens to be Eiffel’s old flame.
The engineer still holds a torch for her two decades after their painful separation.
To impress Adrienne and the Minister, Eiffel vows to build a 300-metre-tall wrought iron tower, in direct opposition to residents who fear the collapse of his “streetlamp of shame”.
Eiffel isn’t constructed with the same impeccable attention to detail as the tower and Bourboulon’s film is unlikely to inspire repeat visits.
The awe and wonder of the landmark’s ingenious design underpins the best scene, showcasing Eiffel’s system of sand boxes and hydraulic jacks that alter the position of the tower’s four feet by millimetres, so connecting girders can slot into place.
Production and costumes designs are impressive, filling the frame when raw emotions are in noticeably short supply.
Our rating: 5.5/10
Released in Ireland: August 12th
(15, 108 mins) Romance/Drama. Romain Duris, Emma Mackey, Armande Boulanger, Pierre Deladonchamps, Bruno Raffaelli, Alexandre Steiger, Andranic Manet. Director: Martin Bourboulon.