The story is big: while his career is at its peak thanks to his collaboration on the Statue of Liberty, Gustave Eiffel refuses to participate in the Universal Exhibition of 1889 in Paris. And the French government fails to convince him. But things change when he crosses paths with Adrienne, his great forbidden love. Against all odds, and especially against the advice of almost the entire French population, he decided to embark on what would become the biggest project of his life: the Eiffel Tower. The cast is royal: Romain Duris- who winks here to his architect father-, will slip into the skin of Gustave Eiffel. By his side, the star of the Netflix series Sex Education, Emma Mackey, will be Adrienne Bourgès. All the ingredients seem to come together so that Eiffel, directed by Martin Bourboulon (Mom or dad, Mom or dad 2), meets with success when it hits theaters on August 25th. But don’t get me wrong: not everything has always been idyllic for this film… Quite the contrary! The proof advanced exclusively by Caroline Bongrand herself for Melty.
To read the scriptwriter of the feature film, it’s actually quite the opposite. This is also why his latest work, Eiffel and me, published by Editions Sixième (s) last May, is causing a stir. She explains her truth: that of a woman who fought for twenty-four years to bring her ideas to life on the big screen and to whom we have often disrespected. A real obstacle course strewn with pitfalls, disillusions and sacrifices that plunges us behind the scenes of a scenario. And in that of a film industry that tends to make screenwriters invisible.
From bluff to reality
In his latest work, Caroline Bongrand says it all, or at least “almost all” she tells us. Starting with the birth of his screenplay, that of Eiffel. And already the story is incredible. While studying cinema at a prestigious American university, the Frenchwoman, already the author of several novels, tries everything for everything. After being refused several film scripts, she invents in a fraction of a second what will later become Eiffel. It is September 1997 and the poker game is working. Months of hard work follow in the hopes of building a story that will hold up. But very quickly the disappointments accumulated and she returned to France. With, in her suitcase, a screenplay that will accompany her for 24 years and that she will work again and again alongside the father of her eldest son, Martin Brossollet, also a screenwriter. “He is the first adapter in this scenario”, Explain Caroline Bongrand. Unfortunately, relentlessness does not immediately pay off and French distributors remain cautious.
The story could therefore have ended there for the first time. It was without counting on the release of Pitch, a novel where Caroline Bongrand delivers its first American setbacks. It’s a bookstore success… But it’s pretty much here that the French galleys begin for her. After the broadcast of a program about her book on Europe 1, she received a phone call from Artmedia, the agency that inspired the series. Ten percent, who announces to him that he wants to meet her immediately. Gérard Depardieu listened to the interview: he wants to put on Gustave Eiffel’s costume and give the answer to Isabelle Adjani who will be Adrienne. Luc Besson will direct the film. Only. And it’s take it or leave it. The screenwriter leaves. No way for her to see her film slip through her fingers.
The fight of a lifetime
“I can’t explain why, but I never would have stopped. I would always have fought for this movie.”, explains the screenwriter with sincerity. “It’s mysterious, I can’t understand myself at all”. Pugnacious Caroline Bongrand ? She has not always been and even willingly admits it. Before this scenario, on the contrary, she was often told that she was not the type to finish what she was starting. “The teachers told me, the students told me, people at job interviews told me. I didn’t like it at all and ‘Eiffel’ is my answer”. An answer that was played out in a boxing ring. Because the adventures do not end there! After several other missed appointments in France, the scenario ends up interesting once again the United States. Ridley Scott and his wife, Giannina Faccio, are enthralled by the story made up by Caroline Bongrand and seek to produce the film as quickly as possible. Problem (yes, yes, another one…): the American only works on new projects of which no one is yet aware. The bellows fall immediately but not the envy of the French screenwriter who still does not seem decided to let go. As Gustave Eiffel with her tower, she is keen to make her dream come true even if she has to pay a heavy price for it.
And its story lives by itself. A few years later, she was contacted by the producer Vanessa van Zuylen who said she wanted to make this film. “at all costs”. We give it to you in a thousand: the path is still winding because Caroline Bongrand must now face the race to the bottom of his script and the denigration of his work. It’s here that Thomas Bourboulon, the happy director of Eiffel and me, enters into the equation by proposing to direct the feature film. After long weeks of work during which the French screenwriter constantly reworks her story and her dialogues, the dream finally comes true and the release is approaching. Delivery ? Not quite. Because the end of this story is not a happy ending.
The almost systematic invisibilization of screenwriters
Yes Eiffel will indeed be released on screens on August 25, the person behind it, Caroline Bongrand therefore, almost disappeared from the generic. In her book, she writes that she learned about the start of filming from the press. Worse still, during her only visit to the scene, Romain Duris seemed surprised that she presented herself as the screenwriter of the film. Yet there is no hint of revenge in the publication of his book. “At no time is there a revenge or a settling of scores. It’s not my state of mind at all.”, she says. She even says she is happy that the film is coming out “because it is a great film with international influence”.
“I am very happy with three things”, she adds. “First, to have done it. Then to have closed this story because I am happy to move on. And also, I am happy for my children because it is a beautiful lesson of stubbornness for them”. Because in the end, the Frenchwoman was indeed at the end of this story. Of its history. “Of course, there are little last-minute script adjustments that are choices I wouldn’t necessarily have made, but they don’t call everything into question. And the film is beautiful. It’s a great French film by its breath, its ambition, its international influence “.
Eiffel and me therefore appears to be the easiest way to Caroline Bongrand to tell the truth. “I wanted to tell these 24 years of my life. I wanted to tell this crazy story and at the same time there was a little voice in my head that said to me: ‘I’ll be really glad someone knows'”… And she adds: “I was afraid of invisibilization”. Because although she was not aware of it right away, that is what is at stake in this fight. “The day I understood that Romain Duris did not know who I was, I understood that something was happening that escaped me. There I had a feeling of obliteration”.
This is why this book appears to be a necessary step in the life of this woman. “A number of people tried to talk me out of writing this book. They told me I was taking a huge risk, to which I always replied that, too bad, I was taking the risk.”, she tells us. “To do Eiffel was to take a risk”. And, obviously, making the choice to become a screenwriter too. Because Caroline Bongrand is far from being an isolated case. “Finally my story is a spectacular example of something that touches 100% of the writers. Not half, 100%!”, she explains. Moreover, the Words of screenwriters page, created last December and followed today by several thousand people, lists hundreds of anonymous testimonies all demonstrating the same invisibilization of this profession. And the figures speak for themselves: in France, the scenario represents only 3% of the budget of a feature film, compared to 12% to 15% in the United States. “And again, 3% when you’re lucky!”, exclaims the author at this evocation. “I think we should already stop saying ‘a movie of’ except when the director wrote the script”, adds the one who is already working on a series project, a play and a new novel without any animosity. “That is fundamental. I think the screenwriter should be at all the meetings until the shoot and not be excluded because it is originally his work”. Let us remember here to end that without scenario, and therefore without anyone to write it, no film, quite simply.