Before Romain Duris and Martin Bourboulon, several actors and directors wanted to shoot this biopic of Gustave Eiffel …
This article was originally published in the Premiere n ° 517 (avril 2021).
An adventure made of endless stop-and-go for a quarter of a century, and a happy outcome: Eiffel, a great love film against the backdrop of the construction of the famous tower, was produced under the direction of Martin Bourboulon.
As it finally hits theaters this week, here’s the tale of its incredible epic.
By Thierry Cheze
Emma Mackey, the Eiffel asset: “My desire for French cinema was growing stronger”
The first part is to read here
The novelist begins to write her screenplay and tours the studios. Without success. Until the day when a filmmaker who comes out of a success [elle refuse de le nommer] ask to meet her. He wantsEiffel either his next film and organized the meeting with Paramount to validate the project. Like in a dream. Until this small world finds itself after the deal in the parking lot of Paramount, where she lives a surreal scene. “The director is joined by his wife who breaks down when she sees my producer. And everyone leaves without a word. “ The director’s wife was in fact the ex of the producer with whom she had lived a toxic relationship from which she took fifteen years to recover. Fifteen years during which his ex also remade his life, by becoming a producer under another name! A scenario of series Z unfortunately very real. The director gives up. Caroline Bongrand returns to France, in shock. But from her notes taken during this adventure, she draws a novel [Pitch, 1999]. “It is a hit, and one day, on France Inter, I explain that this film will never be made. Too French for Americans and too American a budget for the French. “ Except that when she leaves, she receives a phone call from Artmedia. Depardieu, who listened to the show, wants to make the film with Isabelle Adjani. The actress is up for it and has even contacted Luc Besson who is keen to make it happen. But the mad hope was short-lived when, in June 2000, Caroline Bongrand met the filmmaker. “He explains to me that he finds this story so beautiful that he wants to sign it and that my name will not appear. I tell him that I cannot accept. But he assures me that no one has the backbone enough to make such an expensive film. And that if he doesn’t, the film will never be made … ” Caroline Bongrand does not give in. Rightly so, since shortly afterwards, producer Christian Fechner asked him to adapt his script in French. What she is working on with the one she has just married, the screenwriter Martin Brossollet. “Passionate about engineering, he imagines all the technical scenes around construction. His contribution was essential. “ Fechner is enthusiastic … but illness catches up with him. “He assures us then that he will not have the physical strength to carry such a heavy project. “ The producer died three years later, in 2008.
Excluded – Romain Duris: How I became Eiffel
The project of a lifetime
So here it is again Eiffel stopped dead. But luck will give it a boost when Martin Brossollet forgets the scenario in a place where Christophe Barratier discovers it. “In the process, continues Caroline Bongrand, Christophe Barratier contacted me to direct the film, with Jacques Perrin in production. “ Except that almost nothing will happen and the two men do not renew the option on the rights. Shortly after, Caroline Bongrand came across an acquaintance of youth: the producer Manuel Munz. Eiffel comes quickly into the conversation. “He said to me: ‘This is crazy. We all have it in front of our eyes and no one has thought about it! ” “ Munz embarks on the project with Olivier Dahan as director. And this, right at the time when Pathé calls Caroline Bongrand: Jérôme Seydoux has read the script and wants to produce the film. She explains to him why this is no longer possible. Then Christophe Barratier recalls her, admits to her thatEiffel is the project of his life and gives him a 100 page storyboard. “I promise to call him back if Manuel doesn’t manage to edit the film. But I’m sure it will work. ”
Except that the years will pass and finding the funding is a mission impossible. Munz may well associate with Paula Weinstein (Blood Diamond) who hired playwright Martin Sherman to adapt the script in English, nothing helped. Worse, annoyed to have been put aside from these decisions, Dahan throws in the towel. We are in 2017. Eiffel seems doomed again. Except miracle of course. Like this call from Ridley Scott’s wife to whom a friend of Caroline Bongrand, fan of the script, transmitted it. She tells him that Ridley wants to make it his next film … before realizing that the project has already passed through other hands, while they are only developing new subjects. The mad hope flies a second time.
It is at the same time that the production manager François Hamel comes to dine with the producer Vanessa van Zuylen with whom he worked on A man up to the task. He sees Eiffel towers all over the apartment. “My passion since always”, she explains. Hamel then tells him about this scenario that is circulating at Pathé. Certain that this film is made for her, he gives her the script. Immediate love at first sight. The producer finds Caroline Bongrand’s contact details and calls her. The screenwriter explains the situation to him. “Vanessa assures me then that she will succeed in making the film. I am fascinated by his self-confidence. And it’s not just words. While a clause in the contract indicates that buying the rights from Manuel Munz is also buying up huge debts, she finds the solutions. The deal is also sealed with Pathé. Caroline Bongrand, helped by Christophe Barratier, begins to rewrite to arrive at a budget of 23 million. But things are slipping. And when the two women learn that Philippe Lioret is preparing a film on the same subject, they must change gear, and co-screenwriter.
To be continued…
Eiffel at the cinema, a twenty-five-year project: Part 3 – A thriller à la True Detective