Street racers everywhere know of the cult classic, C'était un rendez-vous, commonly shortened to Rendezvous. In this 1976 film, a car races along through red lights, on sidewalks and running the wrong way on one-way streets. It is a real racing experience in Paris that feature real traffic and unsuspecting pedestrians. Claude Lelouch, the director, created an ode to street racing and an incredible romance, all in under nine minutes. No spoken lines. Only a glimpse of the actors, and you never see the driver's face. Yet still, this film stands as an epic attempt to combine romance and action, successfully. While romance takes center stage only at the end, the action is in the heart-pounding soundtrack and close calls along the way to the beautiful blond at the end. When it was filmed, there was nothing like it. Rendezvous continues to hold a place as one of the best films of its kind.
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Few things can make a video an instant cult classic, but authenticity and dash of the forbidden did the trick. Rendezvous enjoyed a devoted audience for decades solely because it depicts the type of driving everyone wants to try. Who cares about red lights, pedestrians or a flock of pigeons? Ignore it all and just drive. Add on top the fact that this film asked for and received no permission and happened on real city streets and you have a film designed to appeal. Yes, filming was illegal, but that adds to the thrill. Who hasn't imagined just gunning it down the street, dodging obstacles? The lack of information is another big part of the mystique. Audiences create the story. Some viewers believe it was a test for the gyroscopic camera and the entire film is 100% authentic--including the soundtrack. Others have taken a look under the hood and come to other conclusions.
As Rendezvous opens, all you see is the road opening up in front. The soundtrack tells the tale of speed and excitement, but it may not match the engine sounds. Lelouch admitted that the car used in filming was a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9. Why this model? Two reasons. 1. It had great suspension and could keep the camera more stable during the drive. 2. He already owned one, helping to keep production costs down. Since this movie was filmed in 1976, it was shot in 35MM. This was before the era of motion stabilized shots and CGI. Filmed in a single take, its length was determined by the length of a reel, and the entire film is designed to be from the driver's POV. This early entry into the first person film market lives on, in large part because to many fans, the car was a sexy sports car, not a staid, luxury sedan.
While the sounds growling out from the (assumed) car in Rendezvous suggest a V12 engine and plenty of hp under the hood, the actual vehicle was a V8 Mercedes. So, why does it sound like a totally different car? Because it is! The soundtrack recorded for this short comes from the engine sounds of a Ferrari 275GTB, another car in Lelouch's garage at the time of filming. The 3-speed automatic transmission Mercedes had a corresponding number of gears but lacked the distinctive growl of a high-powered V12. To make up the difference in sound output and add in an element of excitement, Lelouch swapped the audio and did an almost flawless job of dubbing in the Ferrari engine noises.
A big part of what made this film famous, or infamous, is the danger. No permits. No stopped traffic. Every person shown is not an actor. That all adds up to the potential for serious disaster. Every red light run, aggressive pass or jump onto the sidewalk could have resulted in a fatality--but it didn't. Most of the route had reasonable visibility at the corners, allowing Lelouch to see any potential pedestrians and traffic before the intersection. There was only one blind corner, and Lelouch covered that with an assistant armed with a radio. When he hit that corner, coming out of a covered arch, the assistant would radio if there were pedestrians or oncoming cars. Thankfully, Lelouch happened to catch the light while it was green since the radio didn't work. The one safety precaution in place failed, but as luck would have it, no one was harmed during the filming.
When looking at iconic urban car chase scenes, Rendezvous is a little too off the radar for most viewers, but a scene that viewers, and Lelouch, are likely to remember hit the streets in Bullitt. The mad dash through downtown San Francisco may have been the inspiration for this short filmed almost a decade later. It also spawned plenty of later films that look like they drew heavy inspiration from this little known classic. Taxi, another French film from a different director, filmed in 1998, has several long chase scenes, but none have the same immediacy and danger inherent in Rendezvous. Of course, plenty of other car aficionados have pulled from this film, sometimes directly. Here are a few new uses for the film that have helped it keep its crown as one of the most infamous street racing films of all time.
Snow Patrol, an alternative rock band from Northern Ireland, brought Rendezvous back into the public eye when they used the footage in a music video. "Open Your Eyes", a single from their 2006 Eyes Open album generated a lot of interest in a film that was a cult classic with little play for general audiences. By selling 6 million copies of the album, Snow Patrol exposed this little known film to a wide audience. Of course, this video dropped what is possibly the most compelling part of the original film--the soundtrack.
In 2016, Ford took the original groundbreaking Rendezvous and reshot it using 360-degree VR video for an even more immersive experience. No, it wasn't re-filmed in a single take, and no, it wasn't done as an illegal exercise, but the finished product does manage to incorporate some of the elements of drama and action that made the original so forward thinking. While urban car chases now make regular appearances in major movies, this Ford Mustang version is an almost shot-for-shot remake. Some physical changes to the Paris landscape make it impossible to duplicate the original completely, but filmmakers attempted to stay true to the original while using the Mustang GT to cover the cobblestone streets and show off uniquely Parisian architecture.
Amazon's show, The Grand Tour, does more than just dive deep into the world of supercars and fast tracks. It also includes elements of humor, a deep love of motoring culture and some fun Easter eggs for fellow gear heads in the know. In season 2, Jeremy Clarkson drove one of the fastest cars in the world on a more than 300km trip from Saint-Tropez to Turin. While he sat behind the wheel of a Bugatti Chiron with a V16 engine, he called the trip an homage to Lelouch's film, once again giving this short just a little of the credit it deserves.