Claude Lelouch is probably best known for directing Un homme et une femme (1966) aka A Man and a Woman, the film that gave the world the famous (and eminently hummable) Francis Lai hit theme tune.

What is perhaps less well known is that a decade later he invented the viral video pretty much single-handedly with his short C’etait un rendezvous-vous (1976) which depicts an eight minute sprint through the streets of Paris, filmed entirely in a single take in the early hours of the morning passing a variety of Parisian landmarks en route. Red lights and speed limits are ignored, the car mounts the pavement at one point, pigeons are scattered, pedestrians are endangered and the result is perhaps one of the most exciting examples of pure cinema ever filmed. Reckless and irresponsible it may be but the world would be poorer if it had never existed. There are plenty of myths and legends associated with this film and separating fact from fiction can be problematic, but the story goes something like this:

At the end of shooting his feature film Si c’etait a refaire (aka If I Had to Do It All Over Again) Lelouch found himself with nine minutes of unused film, an Eclair 35mm camera with a rig capable of being attached to the front of a car and several days before the equipment was due to be returned. He had recently found himself racing frantically through the Parisian streets in order to get to a meeting on time and it occurred to him that a white-knuckle thrill ride along those lines would be an ideal basis for a short film. He applied for the necessary permits to do this and was turned down. Undaunted he decided to make the film anyway. He asked his cinematographer and grip to turn up early the next morning. There would only be one take and they had to get it right.

…passing the Arc de Triomphe, the Paris Opera and the Place de la Concorde…

C'était un rendez-vous (1976) PosterAt 5:30am on an August morning he attached the camera to the front of his Mercedes-Benz (chosen specifically for the quality of its suspension) and set off on the 10km route he had chosen, taking him from Boulevard Périphérique to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, passing the Arc de Triomphe, the Paris Opera and the Place de la Concorde en route and at one point through the grounds of the Louvre. At this point was a dangerous blind spot so Lelouch stationed his only crew member – a production assistant with a walkie-talkie ready to warn him if any pedestrians came close during the run. However it later transpired that the walkie-talkies they used were not working at the time. Fortunately no-one came close.

The blonde trotting up the steps of the Sacre-Coer at the end is his current wife at the time. Lelouch felt that the sound of the Mercedes was not exciting enough so he repeated the drive a week later in order to overdub the audio with the engine noise produced by his Ferrari 275GTB. Another legend associated with the film: after its initial screenings attached to the front of one of his feature films Lelouch was issued with a retroactive speeding ticket by the French authorities. Lelouch himself claims that he was called in to see the Chief of Police who informed him that he was impounding his licence, then told him that his children loved the film before giving it back.

…Reckless and irresponsible…

The film has proved enduringly popular and for many years was spoken about in hushed tones and passed round as shoddy multiple generation video tapes (a low quality 1992 VHS bootleg boasted a hefty $50 price tag) until it finally received an official DVD release in 2003. Reckless and irresponsible his actions may have been, but the resultant film is undeniably exciting on a very visceral level and a triumph of impromptu guerrilla film-making, not to mention the pinnacle of Lelouch’s otherwise spotty film-making career.

2 Responses

  1. Ana

    But now we can’t see the original full movie of 1976 (with high speed) – ( we can find the changed video, just without the all motor sounds), I’m feeling an apologize, because I saw on Youtube and now it’s only available for sale. Congratulations, your post is still very good, hugs !!!

    [Reply]

    Reply
  2. Ana

    I loved ( C’était un Rendez-Vouz – Paris on high Speed – 1976 ), Claude Lelouch is really brilliant and creative !!!

    Ana Valeria Chedid.

    [Reply]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.