“Eiffel” is as much of a history lesson as “Titanic” is — in other words, it’s basically not one. It’s more like historical fiction, with the real-life 19th century figure Gustave Eiffel, the man responsible for masterminding France’s most iconic landmark, portrayed as a passionate lover first, and an engineer second.
Played by Romain Duris, Gustave contends with naysayers, striking workers and financial setbacks as he commandeers the grand effort to construct the Eiffel Tower. The director Martin Bourboulon intermittently takes us to the construction site, where men toil away, the metal structure gets progressively taller and Gustave pores over architectural blueprints with a furrowed brow.
But the main intrigue involves his romance with Adrienne (Emma Mackey), a married woman with whom he shares an emotional past. Flashbacks from both Gustave and Adrienne’s perspectives show the star-crossed lovers 20 years back, indulging their carnal desires against fireplace backdrops and Parisian sunsets before Adrienne’s disapproving parents step in. Her unexpected return as Gustave deals with various obstacles to the tower’s completion fuels his creativity and commitment.
The film’s shrugging disregard for historical context would be negligible were the romance not so tedious and clichéd. The tower was originally perceived as a foolhardy venture, which provoked national debates and class tensions. But these forces are only vaguely touched upon — too bad considering that tale’s dramatic potential relative to the humdrum love story whipped up here instead. And one can’t help but wonder if “Eiffel” is merely a lame fantasy or a particularly spineless form of mythmaking, whittling down as it does one nation’s politically loaded event to the equivalent of an Eiffel Tower key chain with an inscription reading “city of love.”
Rated R for sex scenes, brief nudity and a suicide attempt. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. In theaters.