Blasting down the streets of Paris on a Sunday morning | Truths about the famous 1976 film ‘C’était un rendez-vous’

This virtual tour of 1970s Paris along with the raw sound of a naturally aspirated Ferrari V12 playing in the background is probably one of the best films purists can watch during lockdown
The sound from the Ferrari 275 GTB's 3.3-litre V12 was used in the short film
The sound from the Ferrari 275 GTB's 3.3-litre V12 was used in the short film
Having directed over 50 films, Claude Lelouch is very famous internationally
Having directed over 50 films, Claude Lelouch is very famous internationally

The year 1976 is remembered for many notable events. The supersonic Concorde embarked on its first commercial flight while Steve Jobs founded Apple in the same year. 1976 is remembered for another event, a rather crazy one. French film director Claude Lelouch released a 9-minute short film titled ‘C’était un rendez-vous’, translating to ‘It was a date’. If you’re picturising a typical dinner table setting with two people sharing romantic moments, then you’re certainly mislead by this title. So, hold on and read further.

About the film

The film showcases a roughly eight-minute high-speed drive through Paris in wee hours of a Sunday in August 1976. The film starts silently in a tunnel in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, and as the car exits the tunnel, the roar from a V12 engine tunes in. And that’s pretty much the only sound in the entire film apart from the screeching tyres and gear changes. That said, the entire film from start to end is a single shot, without any cuts or special effects. You don’t see the car either. With a gyroscopic camera (there were no GoPros then) mounted on the front bumper, the frame comprises only of the road ahead.

In an era without Go Pros and digital screens, a lot of manual craft was involved
In an era without Go Pros and digital screens, a lot of manual craft was involved

The driver is certainly in a hurry, showing no regard for traffic rules, attacking turns blindly, jumping traffic lights, scaring the pigeons off and waking up a lot of Parisians who don’t intend to be up so early. The driving though, is properly skilled, and arguably up to pro standards. The driver knows exactly where he’s headed and has the route memorised to precision. Satellite navigation wasn’t even invented back then so there’s no question of having Google Maps’ guidance. Smooth entries in and out of the intersections and synchronized downshift rev-matching probably hinted that a racing driver was behind the wheel.

He passes through popular landmarks and tourist attractions like the Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde and Opera Garnier among many others. At one point he’s even seen driving the wrong side and then on to a side walk to avoid a slow bus. Finally, the film ends on the Montmartre hill, and the car shows up right in front of the Sacre Coeur basilica. The driver then jumps out and embraces a young blonde woman who comes walking towards the car, as if she was eagerly waiting for her man to show up.

Truths behind the scenes

If you’ve read till here, I’m sure you are eager to know which car he was driving. The official film poster showcases a red Ferrari 275 GTB but later it was revealed that the car was actually a Mercedes-Benz SL 350, deliberately chosen by Claude for its hydro pneumatic suspension, that would aid in keeping the camera stable on the cobbled streets of Paris. Both cars belonged to the director and the sound of the V12 Ferrari was added in post-production. Claude also placed spotters at two blind junctions, but the walkie talkies did not work and the crossings were luckily clear at that given point.

There were speculations that the car was driven by French Formula One drivers Rene Arnoux or Jean-Pierre Jarier. However, this wasn’t true and the car was actually driven by director Claude Lelouch himself. More speculations were drawn, stating that the car went upto speeds of 260kmph (the actual top speed of the Ferrari 275 GTB) on certain stretches. That wasn’t true either. At no point are the surroundings blurred or such massive speed difference noticed compared to other vehicles. Some reports suggest that over the course of 10.5km, the car was driven at an average speed of 80kmph. When the film was first presented to the public, Claude Lelouch was arrested. The film was banned and would only be shown in underground theatres.

Haven't seen the classic yet? Hold your breath and watch it below. If you’re craving for a tour of the world’s most visited tourist city or for the sound of a raw V12 echoing through the streets, then this film is probably your best bargain, considering the lockdown situation. And if you’re planning a date, don’t do it this way, especially not during an unusual Sunday morning. Headphones recommended!

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