One of the most famous car chases in all of cinema involves a single car that never appears on camera. French director and cinematographer Claude Lelouch asked the city of Paris to close some streets so he could shoot his 1976 short film “C’etait un Rendezvous.” Paris turned him down. So Lelouch strapped a 35-mm film camera to the front of his Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 and hit the streets at 5:30 a.m. anyway, kissing 145 miles per hour to chase an early morning appointment with his girlfriend across town. For the final cut, Lelouch dubbed in a V12 soundtrack from his personal Ferrari 275 GTB. French bureaucracy being what it (still) is, Lelouch knew it would be poor form to release his effort, so the final cut hid out underground for 26 years until a DVD release in 2003. The decades of secrecy birthed a persistent rumor that Formula 1 driver Jacques Lafitte was behind the wheel of the Mercedes, but Lelouch always took credit for driving. And Gallic authorities got wind of the film anyway and revoked Lelouch’s license for a brief spell.
The coronavirus forced Formula 1 to cancel the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend, but the principality made use of some of the hours when the streets would have been closed. Lelouch worked with Ferrari to shoot a new version of “C’etait un Rendezvous,” this time called “Le Grand Rendez-Vous.” An F1 driver will take the wheel publicly this time, native Monegasque and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc on pilot duties for the stint. Nor will the director need to dub a rowdier exhaust note, since Ferrari donated its 986-horsepower SF90 Stradale to be co-star. It’s said this will be the first film shot in post-lockdown France.
The original movie was shot in one cut and lasts a little more than eight minutes. Monaco streets were closed to traffic from 6:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sunday morning, so who knows what kind of route the crew has planned. We can say it would seem a waste for the production to skip a run up the tiny, twisty roads climbing above the city to ancient towns like Eze, but, coming to our senses, we know it’s ridiculous to second-guess Lelouch in this matter. Until the new take appears, you can watch the original above, or check out a couple of inspired-by versions in Ford’s “reRendezvous” in 3D from 2017, and Kidston Films’ “C’etait une urgence,” a delivery run for Covid-19 medical supplies though the streets of Rome shot earlier this month.