- The hard charging real life blast through Paris at dawn in a V12 Ferrari was not all it seemed...

C'etait Un Rendezvous: The Greatest Car Film of All Time??

There are car flicks, there are great car flicks, and then there is C'etait Un Rendezvous. Very possibly the best of all???

2y ago
19K

When you dive deep into 20thCentury Automotive Cinema, there is no shortage of classic films which cater to a whole range of petrol heads. 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 ‘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.

Lelouch guns it toward the Arc de Triomphe

Lelouch guns it toward the Arc de Triomphe

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 blasting his big Benz at 5:30am, just because he could.

French Filmaker Claude Lelouch with his "Go Pro"

French Filmaker Claude Lelouch with his "Go Pro"

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 Périphérique 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!

Lelouch had no idea that his walkie talkie to his assistant was broken!

Lelouch had no idea that his walkie talkie to his assistant was broken!

Upon examing the footage, Lelouch thought it needed some extra spice, so he recorded the high revving V12 bark from his Ferrari 275 GTB/4 cam 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.

A Ferrari 275 GTB/4, similar to the one owned by Claude Lelouch

A Ferrari 275 GTB/4, similar to the one owned by Claude Lelouch

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 feel free to 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.

Lelouch greets his girlfriend at the films end

Lelouch greets his girlfriend at the films end

Join In

Comments (29)

  • It's very cool, but also very short. Try this one.

      2 years ago
    • Cant knock a nic cage flick, the GT500 helps too :)

        2 years ago
  • Thank you so much for sharing this epic piece of film ! I had seen it and have read parts of the background but never as complete as this. Although I was very young in the 70’s I know enough that these undertakimgs were technically possible as traffic was not as crazy as it is now but a Dutch car magazine tried to re-run it (with a MB 65 AMG) yet came to the conclusion that Lelouch must have used some trickery as the average speed seemed impossible but they also stated that because of the epic proportions of this film, one would never be sure and it neither should be as the result was just extraordinary. I love it being a fan of Lelouch and the SEL reminds me of my dad who had one of these in the 70’s who sadly did not participate in such undertakings :-(

      2 years ago
    • Thanks for the feedback :) Yes, the SEL was the unsung hero of rendezvous :)

        2 years ago
    • My dad only had the regular 450 SEL but it was still a monster. But the W108 250 SE and the W109 300 SEL he had prior to that and the W126 380 SE that followed I personally like better in terms of styling. And I still feel that the 6.9 is beaten by the...

      Read more
        2 years ago
  • Thanks for the read! And the film! That’s an epic I won’t soon forget. If you have any more suggestions I’d definitely read/watch!

      2 years ago
    • Thanks Tim. Glad you liked it. There are loads more car flicks which are definitely worth the watch :) Stay tuned!

        2 years ago
  • Wow. Great story. I suppose that's the story when there is an excess of film! I watched the footage a little while ago. I think it's the best ever. I wonder why he couldn't record his 6.9 S-Class just because (and for the fun of it). There isn't all that much video online showcasing the exhaust note of the largest W100 motor which is also the largest (non-AMG) Mercedes-Benz engine ever put into a passenger car. I guess Claude saved that job for me.

      2 years ago
  • This is the standard, no question.

      2 years ago
29