“C’ÉTAIT UN RENDEZVOUS” – de Claude Lelouche

In 1966, at the end of filming UN HOMME et UNE FEMME and with stock to spare in the last film magazine, Lelouche recorded this amazing, single-take sequence through the early dawn streets of Paris...


– In 1966, at the end of filming UN HOMME et UNE FEMME and with stock to spare in the last film magazine, Lelouche recorded this amazing, single-take sequence through the early dawn streets of Paris...

Long surrounded by different layers of urban myths, this  short film had – at the time of its initial private release, created somewhat of a furor among the aficionados of both film and automobiles as an ultimate expression of “cinema verité”.

Claude LELOUCHE – already well known by that time for his movie “Un  Homme  et  une Femme” (A Man and a Woman – with actors  Jean Louis TRINTIGNANT and  Anouk AIMÉE - 1966) – had a soft spot for Ferraris, and after the success of this, and other films, reputedly bought himself a 275 GTB which was supposedly used for this clip.


A further, shadowy whisper had suggested that the film was made using a new gyro-stabilizing camera mount that had been used at the end of the night’s shoot, following which there had remained some film in the magazine and Lelouche is said to have decided – as a spur-of-the-moment thing – to use it up in this manner.

Another story simply says that the camera's magazine only contained 10 minutes of raw stock, and so Lelouche came up with the idea of driving a route across Paris – at which the car had to travel at great speed in order for the scenario to be fulfilled...

Which is true...?

Who knows...

This is probably pure vanilla-ish speculation – but partly reflects the kinds of stories that surrounded the legend created by its production.

When it was first shown, the Paris Police obtained a copy and – as the story goes – arrested Lelouche who claimed that he had taken all possible precautions by using a Formula One driver friend of his – who remained unnamed – to actually do the driving.

Subsequent to this short exposure, the film disappeared into the netherworld - only being shown on occasions as a precursor to other Lelouche productions in the cinema – and even then without any fanfare.

A few shady, and grainy VHS dubs circulated around Paris at the time and this is how I myself first saw it.

What makes this film interesting is – apart from the 16 red lights that were burned! – and the associated near-misses with other traffic, birds or people – the camera was simply mounted on the car, and the take is one complete, uncut length of footage.

No speeding-up – just “real-time”.

No blocked-off streets, no Police permits, safety crews blah-di-blah, and etc., no CGFX – just the bare-bones reality of the almost empty streets of  Paris at a 05.30 in the morning.

The action depicts an eight-minute+ drive through the city starting at the  Peripherique, down near the Porte Dauphine in  the 16th Arrondissement – up  Avenue Georges Foch,  EtoileChamps ElyséesPlace de la Concorde, the  Voie Rapide  Quaie  Droite des Tuileries, through the Tuileries (Carousel), the Opera – Palais Garnier,   Place Pigalle  and the winding lanes of  Caulaincourt – to finish on the  parvis  of the Sacre Coeur  in  Montmartre

The action is adrenalin-provoking and is accompanied by the very realistic-sounding roar of a high-revving engine, multiple race-gear changes, and the squealing of cobble-stone tortured tyres.

Street cleaners – and the morning “orduriers” – are roared-past, whilst pigeons are scattered in ghostly squalls – picked out by the headlights – along one-way streets, crossing-over both double and single divider-lines, pedestrian "zebras", with pavements mounted, and red lights – being all traversed with an insouciant, but blood-heating impunity…

At every moment of the film it is a “Bumper’s-Eye View” – from the sharp-end of a speeding car that leads to the final “Rendezvous” as the driver embraces his lady on the steps of the  Sacre Coeur - with the pink-flecked canvas of the dawn reaching slowly over the indifferent greying sky before a Parisian backdrop.

The film HAD to be taken in one shot – otherwise, it would have lost its verve and magic. 

It was also limited in length by the amount of celluloid available in the magazine and actually times-out at just under nine minutes.

Contrary to an older – but common – belief, the gyro-stabilised camera was actually mounted on the bumper of a  Mercedes-Benz 450-SEL – whose specifications claimed it could attain a top speed of  235 km/h(146 mph) – and which was  only ever available with a 3-speed automatic transmission.

... And yet the sound-track clearly suggests gear changes up into a 5th – as well as heel-and-toe down-shifting – on a high-revving engine: all of which “suggests” that speeds of over 200 km/h were achieved.

However, calculations made by several – and various – independent groups, established that the car never actually went faster than  140 km/h (85 mph) – which is still not bad!

Then again, other observers claimed that the car had peaked at 220 km/h (136.7 mph).

Lelouche himself stated that the top speed reached was over 200 km/h – somewhere between  230 km/h and 240 km/h.

As it is therefore obvious that the track cannot, in fact, represent that of the original Mercedes, a further suggestion claims that the sound was actually dubbed – using Lelouch's own 275GTB as the source – which, coincidentally, has a corresponding number of gears and a similar engine throat.

A subsequent “Making-of-the-Rendezvous” documentary indicates that Lelouche was himself actually the driver, and that that the car being  driven was indeed the Mercedes – even though the sound-track is confirmed as being taken from a Ferrari.

Other than one observer with a Walkie-Talkie – (that didn’t work!) – placed at the tight, blind-spot involving a turn-off from the Voie Rapide into the Arches of the Palais du Louvre, and the actress at the destination – no one else was immediately involved.

… That said, however, it seems that there certainly was a great party following the event…!

Due to an increasing interest in this mythical piece of brilliant film-making, the clip has in fact recently been re-mastered from the 35 mm negative and was re-released on DVD.

Richard SYMONS - a documentary film-maker, had come across a poor VHS copy and decided to do something about it.

"I'd never seen anything like it, 9 minutes of adrenalin that simply leaves your jaw on the floor.

To cut a long story short, we got in touch with the Director, dusted-down the 35mm negative and then restored and re-mastered it for re-release: so we've now brought out all the details and colours and it looks stunning."

"Cetait un Rendezvous" is actually something more than just an adrenalin rush.

Having lived in Paris during that time, I feel that Lelouche's magic was precisely conjured through his various films made during those days that encapsulated a time, and a spirit, redolent with the unsophisticated simplicity of film-making devoid of any SFX and CGI.

 In the same way that my photographer contemporaries knew nothing of Photoshop or computers, what we produced was REAL: not a manipulated facsimile rendered digitally from out of an alternative imagination… (Which doesn’t make the latter wrong: just more facile).



 Bvd Périphérique at Porte Dauphine  Avenue Foch Place Charles-de-Gaulle Avenue des Champs-Elysées Place de la Concorde Quai des Tuileries Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel Rue de Rohan Avenue de l'Opera Place de l'Opéra Fromental Halévy Rue de la Chausée d'Antin Place d'Estienne d'Orves Rue Blanche Rue Pigalle Place Pigalle Bvd de Clichy (aborted turn at Rue Lepic) Rue Caulaincourt Avenue Junot Place Marcel Aymé Rue Norvins Place du Tertre Rue Ste-Eleuthère Rue Azais  Place du Parvis du Sacré Cœur, Montmartre.