Paris. 1976. Summer. Early dawn. Empty – well, largely empty streets. A sexy Miss Sweden to meet. And a V12 Ferrari to get you there. GO!
The big screen has given us multiple excellent car chases and car races over the years. Many have become famous for various reasons – because of the cars, their stunts, the action, the suspense, the soundtrack or all sorts of other reasons. But of them all, none are surrounded by quite as many myths and mystery as the legendary “C’était un Rendez-vous” written and directed by Claude Lelouch.
I’m sure we all know the eight-and-a-half-minute short film. If you don’t, you’re seriously missing out! It is by many regarded as the connoisseurs’ choice when the topic turns to legendary automotive movies – and for good reason too. The movie was filmed in a single take, there are no special effects, no pre-planned stunts, no closed off streets and there’s no speeding up of the film either. There’s not even any speech in the movie – just raw and undiluted action. The wide-angled camera with a 35mm film reel was simply attached to the front bumper of a car and thereby sits low and close to the ground while not showing any of the car, which in turn gives an intense high-speed sensation, as the driver navigates through the center of Paris at break-neck speeds with zero regard to speed limits, other cars and busses, pedestrians or red lights for that matter. Then there is of course that soundtrack, and oh what a soundtrack! A deep and urgent mechanical wail from the strained V12 Ferrari, being hastily worked through its gears towards a beautiful crescendo every time we touch the redline, and delicious bleeps of the throttle as we heel-and-toe back down the gears only to accelerate hard once again in this wild sprint over the cobblestoned streets of Paris.
And then there are all the rumours, the mystery, the myths and the hearsay, which today is almost as big a part of the short film as is the high-speed sprint which we all secretly – or maybe not so secretly – dream of replicating.
– Was the hazardous sprint really undertaken in Lelouch’s private Ferrari 275GTB?
– Was it a famous Formula One driver behind the wheel? Jacky Ickx or maybe Jean-Pierre Beltoise?
– Did the Ferrari really reach 240 km/h as it sped through Paris?
– And was Lelouch truly arrested immediately after the premiere of the film?
I was actually vaguely disappointed when Lelouch revealed some of the truth in an interview in 2005. It was as if a little portion of the magic disappeared, even though some of those rumours had in fact already been dispelled by that point. It was Lelouch driving the car himself, and as much of the world had long since figured out, he wasn’t driving his Ferrari, but instead the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 with which the Ferrari shared the garage. Lelouch had chosen the big Mercedes over the Ferrari as the self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension would help stabilize the picture. Only later did he dub the film with the spine-tingling soundtrack from his V12 Ferrari. That the film was dubbed had been fairly obvious to any true car enthusiast from day one anyway. Don’t get me wrong – it’s quite convincing. But there are nonetheless places where the gearchanges just don’t quite make sense. And while the car is clearly travelling rather briskly, it’s clear to most that we’re not flat-out in fifth as the soundtrack suggests. In fact, calculations have been made from the movie which show that the speed never exceeded 140 km/h – which I suppose is still rather rapid through the center of Paris. And regardless of speed, there’s no denying that a hefty 18 red lights were disregarded!
But put all the dry facts aside. Ignore the nay-sayers pointing out yet again that the dubbed soundtrack doesn’t sync perfectly with the visuals. Who cares? This is 1976, it’s a good as I gets, it’s EPIC! All you need is right here, so turn the volume to max, crawl behind the steering wheel of that 275GTB and hit play to experience eight-and-a-half-minutes of motoring nirvana… (albeit from the safety of your sofa).