Thursday, July 22, 2010

Claude Lelouch's C'était un rendez-vous (1976)

This is probably the most irresponsible and likely one of the most morally indefensible bits of film ever produced by a major filmmaker, and though I hate to admit this, it is a lot of fun. It's one shot and lasts only eight minutes and forty seconds, but it is the ultimate adrenaline rush for anybody who likes to drive fast. Jeremy Clarkson, the man/boy on Top Gear, said this about the film: "it makes Bullitt look like a cartoon."

The film, C'était un rendez-vous, whose title translates "It Was A Date," consists of a very fast car, with a camera attached to its bumper, racing through the early morning (5:30am) streets of Paris at ridiculous, life-threatening speeds. Claude Lelouch, a fast-car nut (in his best known film, A Man and A Woman, the lead male is a race car driver), did this piece of stunt filmmaking without permission or warning. Supposedly interested in testing a new gyro device to steady film images in 'jittery' environments (this was prior to the invention of the Steadicam), he decided to mount the device, a camera with one 10-minute reel of film inside on the front bumper of his car. He had a route mapped out -- allegedly there was an assistant at one blind corner to radio him of any obstacles -- got into the car and gunned it. The route takes him racing down the Avenue Foch towards the Arc de Triomphe, and finishes several kilometres later at the Basilique de Sacré-Cœur. It ends with, of course, a girl awaiting his arrival. He steps out of the car, they embrace and fin.

During the rampage through the streets, he has more than one near miss with other vehicles and, on one occasion, a pedestrian. I'm convinced more than one pigeon bought it during its making by not getting the heck out of the way in time. Reaching speeds supposedly up to 200 kph (though that's refuted by many), the car noise on the soundtrack is the only confirmed fraud. He drove a Mercedes 450SEL 6.9; the car engine on the soundtrack is a Ferrari. What makes this morally indefensible is that he could have easily killed not only himself, but many innocent bystanders. This disturbingly thrilling short is a perfect encapsulation of the ego and drive of many filmmakers. The 'I am a god and I can do whatever I want' mindset. It has embodied itself in crazy filmmakers like Werner Herzog who, rumours persist, that during the making of his 1982 picture Fitzcarraldo (about an equally mad man who is determined to pull a full-sized ship from one lake to another over a hill) he caused the death or serious injury of an extra.

It appears in the monomanical vision of Michael Cimino in the production of his 1980 incoherent snore-fest, Heaven's Gate. In that case, nobody died, but it came close on more than one occasion. And it embodies itself in John Landis, when his supposed insistence to "lower lower" the helicopter over the set during the shooting of his part of The Twilight Zone (1982) caused the death of actor Vic Morrow and the two child-extras in his arms when the helicopter crashed into them. If you ever want to see a truly great film about that whole mindset of the filmmaker, rent Richard Rush's masterpiece, The Stunt Man (1980). Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole) is a filmmaker who, at the start of the picture, is responsible for the death of one of his stunt men. The 'new' stunt man becomes convinced that Cross intends to kill him too to "achieve his vision" (its cutline was "If God could do the things that we can do, he'd be a happy man" for a reason). Maybe the film cut too close to home for Hollywood because Rush has only made one film since, the awful Color of Night (1994).

Regardless of the larger implications of this little film, I can still watch Lelouch's short and still see its appeal. It's a foolish, dangerous and irresponsible piece of work, but it sure does move. And nobody died ... except maybe a couple of pigeons.

see it here

-- David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is putting the finishing touches on his first novel, The Empire of Death.

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