“You’ll never see it like before.”

By Roger Childs

Some people’s names are destined to be known world-wide forever. Gustave Eiffel is one of those because of the famous tower that bears his name. Many readers will have seen it and ascended so far or even to the top, 305 metres above the ground. You are part of the more than 300 million visitors to La Tour d’Eiffel since it was completed on the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. 

This film we saw recently at Shoreline in Waikanae is about the building of the amazing tower which was constructed for the 1889 World Fair in Paris, but also includes the on-again off-again love affair between Gustave and Annette – the daughter of a wealthy and highly influential businessman. He faces a range of problems, but as one reviewer puts it: Beautifully produced film with great story, great filming, great actors, but spoilt by a weak ending. Three and a half stars.

Very interesting story line

Gustave was a talented engineer and architect, and prior to building his famous tower was best known for his design of the Statue of Liberty which was shipped to New York as a gift from the French Republic. For this effort Eiffel was made an honorary citizen of the United States. 

Eiffel gained a reputation for bridge-building in Bordeaux and later set himself up in Paris. When a competition was announced for France’s contribution to the 1889 Fair he first thought about a metro underground. But a design for a pylon by one of his colleagues started him thinking about a tower, above ground! He won the contest with his amazing Tour d’Eiffel design but only after convincing the government authorities that it could resist the elements and would not sink or fall over in the swampy ground beside the Seine. 

As work got underway, the officials went below ground to observe how the foundations were constructed and how the combination of soil and water would achieve stability. Then the action shifts above ground and the four massive legs of the tower are constructed.

Interwoven into the negotiating and tower building is the story of the love affair of Annette and Gustave. 

As the tower rises Eiffel and his team are beset by a range of problems – labour issues, adverse publicity, complaints from local residents, the concerns of the politicians, construction issues and shortages of finance.  

Much to like about Eiffel

The two leads – Romain Durie and Emma Mackey are excellent, backed up by a strong supporting cast. The cinematography co-ordinated by Marias Boucard is superb and the reconstruction of late 19th century Paris at night and in the daytime is totally convincing. 

Director Martin Bouboulon keeps the story moving but varies the pace, highlighting some of the practical difficulties in the actual construction of the 300m high building.

At 1 hour 48 minutes this is not a particularly long film and it is just a pity that Bouboulon didn’t add another 15-20 minutes to show how more of the problems were resolved. The tower is only about half completed when we cut to the 1889 celebrations.

Although the director and script writers needed to provide more depth on the sorting out of the many issues, this is an absorbing movie which viewers who like historical dramas will thoroughly enjoy.