C’était un rendez-vous: A Cult Film by Claude Lelouch
C’était un rendez-vous is a short film by famous French movie director Claude Lelouch. It’s a simple enough story- a man drives his car at breakneck speed through the streets of Paris to join his date, burning through red lights and traveling up one way roads to get to her as quickly as possible.
Filmed in 1976, it has become a classic staple of cinéma verité, literally “truth cinema”, a style of film making that is closer to the unpredictable and unscripted nature of documentaries. Although the film is over 30 years old, it remains very controversial. When you realize that this movie was filmed while speeding through the streets of Paris and with absolutely no blocked roads or movie permits, you quickly understand why people always have such a strong reaction to it. Claude Lelouch eventually admitted that it was a foolish act of manly bravado, but he said that at the time he loved film more than he loved the law and that the movie would never be as exciting without that constant feeling of danger. I agree with him wholeheartedly- even though it is crazy to place art on a higher level than people’s lives, every second that went by in the film seemed to draw me ever closer to an inevitably tragic outcome, and without that sense of flirtation with death, the movie just wouldn’t have much emotional impact.
Over the years this film has built up its cult status in part because it was difficult to get a copy of the movie. Because of its growing popularity, a DVD was eventually produced from the original 35mm master and copies of the movie can now be found all over the internet. But so much of the folklore centers around how the film itself was made. Was it Lelouch driving the car himself or a professional formula 1 driver? Was it a Ferrari 275GTB or some other sports car? Was it even a car and not a motorcycle? Was anyone posted at any checkpoints along the route to warn the driver of any impending danger? Was the car really travelling that fast at all? Did Lelouch get arrested after making the film?
While at first these may seem like legitimate questions, it’s shocking how many people are still confused when the answers are just a few Google searches away. Take the speed question for example, some people with too much time on their hands calculated the top and average speed of the car through the different sections of its journeys. While the car didn’t travel at very high speeds at all times, there is one part where it reached 220km/h (136.7mph), which even by today’s standards is pretty insane.
Director Claude Lelouch checking the camera mounted to his Mercedes
As for all the other points, you just need to watch the interview with Lelouch to learn about how the film was actually made. The car was Lelouch’s own Mercedes, to which he mounted a gyro stabilized camera on the front bumper and rode with two camera operators. A wired remote enabled control over the camera settings from inside the vehicle. The movie was filmed in one take without any special effects. However, the sound was overdubbed with the engine from the director’s own Ferrari 275 GTB to make it more exciting (try watching the video without the sound and you will see what a difference it makes). There was one assistant posted by the ticket booths of the Louvre that was supposed to warn Lelouch of any oncoming traffic, but her walkie talkie was broken and had no way of contacting him. Lelouch was eventually arrested by the police but he claims his permit was taken away, if only for a few moments, as a symbolic slap on the wrist for his reckless driving.
For those who know French, you can read an interview with Claude Lelouch here.
Here is a video interview of Lelouch, also in French: