Stories > The truth about the movie Rendez-vous in Paris (1976)

The truth about the movie Rendez-vous in Paris (1976)

Published 2020-01-15 by Zdravko Anticic

In a time long before GoPro cameras, a French movie director made an epic short movie featuring a car speeding through Paris on an early Sunday morning.

The short film was a major hit in the underground movie scene in the late 1970’s and the early 80’s. Chances are that you have seen it.

It is all in one mesmerising take, there is no dialogue and there is no driver in sight. The only person you actually see is the a blonde woman approaching the car in the final moments - hence the name C’était un Rendez-vous.

Translated to English, the title means “It was a date”. According to the producer, Claude Lelouch, the intention was to capture the urgency when a young man rushes to pick up his beautiful date a late night. It is just as much as about sex and desire as it is about driving.

“A guy who is going to meet a girl can take unnecessary risks because he doesn’t want to make her wait.”

The entire movie, from start to end, is in one long shot. There is no cuts, and no special effects. What you see is exactly how that early Sunday morning in Paris was. Including the pigeons, buses and pedestrians. The total of 18 red lights that the car accelerated through were also very real.

Many details about the movie were shrouded in mystery. Few knew how it had been made. There were numerous rumours circulating, one that it was the directors friend and racing driver Jacques Lafitte who was speeding the car through Paris that morning, and that the car driven was a Ferrari 275 GTB. None of this was true.

The truth

The car used for the movie was not a Ferrari. Instead, it was Claude Lelouch’s Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL, with a 6.9 litre V8. The Mercedes had hydropneumatic suspension and was a better choice for the mission, driving on the cobble stone streets of Paris in high speed. The camera was mounted on the front of the car.

The car was driven by Claude Lelouch himself, and not a racing driver. The woman in the end of the movie was his Swedish girlfriend - Gunilla Friden. She had no other instructions but to wait at a designated spot and walk towards the car when Claude arrived.

The Mercedes had a three speed automatic transmisson and sounds nothing like in the movie. The engine noise and tyre squeals are all added in post production. For this purpose, Claudes Ferrari 275 GTB was used.

The route

The route measures 10.597 km long, which indicates an average speed of approximately 80 km/h (50 mph). Far from the claim that the top speed was over 200 km/h in some parts. Looking at the movie you see other traffic. Passing that traffic is not done with ridiculous speed difference.

There were only two people that knew the exact route except Claude. They were placed along the route with walkie talkies in two blind junctions, in order to warn of other traffic. However, the walkie talkies did not work, and Claude assumed that the crossings were clear. It was a miracle that no one was hurt during shooting.

The aftermath

There was, of course, a public outrage of the method of shooting this film. Also, there was ample evidence of multiple serious traffic offences. This became a problem for Claude Lelouch.

One famous incident was when Claude Lelouch was pulled over by a policeman in Paris. The policeman immediately recognised Lelouch and seized his driving license. Moments later, the driving license was returned to the famous movie director.

The policeman later stated that he had orders to take the driving license from Claude. However, since he was a big fan, he returned it after a few minutes. He had still, in theory, complied with the orders from the ministry of justice. The driving license was in fact seized - albeit for just moment.

Claude Lelouch

Claude Lelouch is now 82 years old and lives in Paris. With over 50 major movie productions he is one of the most important French film directors. In 2016 he received the honorary Commander in the Order of the Crown - one of the highest national honours of the Kingdom of Belgium.

In 2009, Lelouch explained: "I made the movie as a gift of this moment of madness. The movie is very symbolic of my life. We did many forbidden things, as I often have in life."

Zdravko Anticic
Zdravko Anticic
zdravko@granturismo.org
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