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When you dive deep into 20thCentury Automotive Cinema, there is no shortage of classic films which cater to a whole range of petrolheads. For lovers of classic American iron, there is Vanishing Point, American Graffiti, Gone in 60 Seconds and Two-Lane Blacktop. However, for the Europhile you have Ronin, Grand Prix, Le Mans, and of course, The Italian Job. Plus, many fans will say that the chase between Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang GT390 Fastback and Bill Hickman’s Dodge Charger RT around the streets of San Francisco in â€˜Bullitt’ is the best car chase in film history.
While all the aforementioned films are brilliant, as is McQueen’s amazing tyre shredding masterpiece, one film, which often gets over looked by many, tops the list for me. It’s run time was a mere nine minutes and for many years, no-one even knew of its existence. The film in question is C’etait un Rendezvous, and its nothing short of magic.
Released in 1976, the film was the brain child of French Film maker Claude Lelouch, director of such classic French films such as A Man and a Woman. As the legend goes, Lelouch had just completed a film with an Elcair cam-flex 35mm film camera and still had nine minutes of film left on a reel. He therefore decided to mount said camera to the front of his 6.9-litre V8 Mercedes 450 SEL and drive as fast as possible across Paris to meet his girlfriend at Montmarte, filming his journey along the way.
Now, as I’m sure we all know, what normally happens when a film crew wishes to shoot a chase scene on location. They ask the city to close sections of public roads and keep the public way back and out of shot. Lelouch didn’t have that luxury, in fact no one even knew it was going on. Lelouch was caning his big Benz at 5:30am, just because he could.
That is what makes Rendezvous so unique, everything you see on screen, is happening for real! No stunt drivers, no crowd control, no accident team if something was to go wrong, it was just Lelouch driving bloody fast across Paris to use up some film.
The route starts at Boulevard PÃ©riphÃ©rique and ends at Montmarte. Along the way we take in such Parisian sights as des Champs-Elysees, the Arc De Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde, the Palais Garnier Opera House and the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Lelouch ran countless red lights, crossed lanes, drove on the footpath and became perilously close on one occasion to bowling over a crossing pedestrian (its in the film!).
Lelouch had his assistant Elie Chouraqui stationed next to a blind-archway on Rue de Rivoli near the Louvre. The reason for this being that as Lelouch came flying through this section, he wouldn’t be able to see if any people were walking across. Chouraqui was told by Lelouch to radio in if anyone was crossing the road so Lelouch could slow down.
As Lelouch approached the arch-way, the radio was slient, so he put his foot down hard and blasted through the arch-way and along Rue de Rivoli. Lelouch later found out the walkie-talkies they had during the shoot were broken!
Upon examing the footage, Lelouch thought it needed some extra spice to make it sell-able, so he recorded the high revving V12 bark from his Ferrari 275 GTB and dubbed it over for use in the film, and boy is it the icing on the cake. Yes there are certain moments where the over dubbing contrasts how the Mercedes was being driven, but such errors are quickly forgotten when considering the scale of this epic undertaking.
After it’s release, legend has it that Lelouch was arrested and the film went underground. Over the course of the next 20 years, it became the motoring world’s best kept secret. Spoken of in hushed tones among car clubs and meet and greets, pirated copies of the film started to be shown. Rendezvous was literally a kind of secret cult.
However, much to the joy of fans, in 2003, Lelouch allowed Spirit Level Film to remaster and restore his original film for re-release on DVD. However, it wasn’t long before started doing the rounds on YouTube, so buckle up and watch the film in its entirety below. Soak up the aural symphony of that screaming Ferrari V12 and the sights of sleepy Parisian streets being used as a racetrack. For classic car buffs everywhere, including yours truly, its automotive and cinematic mecca.