Behind the Scenes of Lelouch’s Rendezvous

Mercedes w116 450SEL 6.9 with camera rig

French film director Claude Lelouch’s nine-minute film Rendezvous is a legend among car enthusiasts. The legend has it that one very early morning in August of 1976, he affixed a then new gyroscopically stabilized 8mm camera to the front of his Ferrari 275 and tore through Paris at high speed without stopping, running several red lights in the process. He was reportedly arrested when it was first publicly shown, and rumours were rampant about who had been driving (including the possibility of Formula 1 drivers). The soundtrack is the awesome Ferrari V12 sound, but years later, he finally confirmed that the film had actually been made with a Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 with Lelouch himself driving and two other people in the car, and the Ferrari soundtrack added later. Below you’ll find the original film, in addition to a behind the scenes interview and retracing of the route with Leloouch thirty years later in 2006. It is in French, but we have translated the good bits below.

Wednesday 24 May 2006:
And I got out like this, and I left running like this…and it happened here.

“Do you know it [the car]?”
“Of course, it’s the same.”
“And we had the camera here, and we had a small remote control that allowed us to control the cover, and an aperture that allowed a depth of 4 or 5 meters. And so there were three of us in the car, belted in.”
“It was the same color, I was driving. (after he gets in the car) It’s not out of fashion at all.”

(As he accelerates out of the tunnel) “We attacked very strongly here… and here a little bit of braking… there are no brakes (lamenting one of the shortcomings of the 6.9, that its brakes aren’t up to the rest of the car’s performance) here I got on it quite strongly and we climbed to 200 (kph), ordinarily, but we won’t go there today. (interviewer quickly replies: “no no, it’s fine…I’ve seen the film several times”)
“so the fact that it happened very early in the morning, that also is a part of your personality/character, the true Lelouch, who wakes up every morning at 5 o’clock”
“ yes, you have the feeling that the world belongs to you”
“So we just decided to do it”
“really, there was no premeditation?”
“no, none at all! I said to them, listen, we’re going to do this. So there were the three of us in the car, and I told them there would be only one take, and it would either work or not work. I was ready in cases of extreme danger, I would not have hesitated between life and a film—a film is only a film.”

“And here we passed…oh at about 160 (kph), and I felt that the car was at the limit here.
“So we have to dispel the mystery that surrounds this film: who drove the car? There is talk of Jackie Ickx , Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Jacques Lafitte…”
“No no!”
“So it was you?”
“So why not a professional driver? You took considerable risks…”
“Well above all it was because it was decided at the very last moment, and moreover because I wanted to do it myself…the interest of the film was to drive.”

“So here I had put a measure of protection: because here I didn’t have any visibility and there was traffic coming from the right and the left, …so I had someone here with a walkie talkie, and I said “if there is a problem when you see me arriving, and you feel that I cannot pass, then warn me.” And he didn’t warn me, but afterwards, he told me that the walkie talkie wasn’t working!”

“So why did you take a Mercedes instead of a sports car which might have been more adapted to this type of exercise”
“Uniquely because of the suspension. It has a hydropneumatic suspension, and it was absolutely necessary that the image be smooth.”

“So here you encountered…”
“Yes, there was a red light, and cars that were blocking, so I had to do something like this (as he crosses the center line)…”
[reporter voices concern]
“Don’t worry, I’m looking…so, I went like this. It was absolutely necessary not to stop because the principle of the film was not to stop.”

“So what did you do for the soundtrack?”
“I redid the route with the Ferrari.”

“Is it true that the original title was to be “red light”?”
“no, it was always “it was a rendezvous”, because, it is a film that tells a story. If there hadn’t been the man who gets out of the car (which was me) and meets the woman, the film wouldn’t have made any sense. It would have been a gratuitous act. What is hard in movies is to tell something, to have a point of view. A man who is going to a rendezvous is able to take pointless risks because he doesn’t want to make the person wait…”
“And you are never late”
“It’s a sickness with me, I’m always early”

“So here there was a truck in the midst of unloading something. I went like this and I saw, so then I went like this…and look, it’s still there, it’s crazy! So I sought to go around. And I had the same light. So here I laid it on very strongly because it was absolutely necessary to catch up the lost time. I was scared, scared of the danger. And I took this one way street, and here, I was already very very happy, and I prayed that there would not be a car that would block me. Because the film could have ended here, here there was no other possibility. So we have good luck, and here it was a one way, and it still is. And from here I didn’t honk any more because that was the cue for the woman who was waiting. And we arrived here and crossed over to here. And there was the same light. The same light. And I went over here and then here I honked, and I got out like this, and I left running like this…and it happened here.”

2 Responses to “Behind the Scenes of Lelouch’s Rendezvous”

  1. Mark Petry says:

    Great interview with Lelouche – had not seen this before, altho I own the DVD from Bentley. Of course you can tell the sound track is dubbed in. One little hint tho- whatever car was used, it had the french “yellow” headlights.

    Thanks for posting this !

    Mark Petry
    Bainbridge Island, WA

  2. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing, and also putting rest to that nagging “what was he driving?”

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