Since his 1966 breakthrough film, Un Homme et une femme, director Claude Lelouch has become known as the purveyor of a particular kind of film: the glossy soap opera. Whilst remarkably prolific, each feature film has suffered from the same flaws: interminable length, an inability to engage with the characters (even in such a film as Les Uns et les autres with its multiple plot strands), and most damningly an overly glossy visual style. In fact, no other director manages to bore quite like Lelouch, quite an achievement when one considers some of his films’ subjects: French songstress Edith Piaf for Edith et Marcel; Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Miserables (here the director felt it necessary to add a modern-day parallel storyline just to increase the level of schmaltz); and even switching to the western genre for Un Autre homme, une autre chance. Indeed, the soap opera tag becomes fitting when you consider that Les Uns et les autres was made into just that.
For C’était un rendezvous, however, Lelouch eschews his usual stylistic excesses: the film has no characters as such, no dialogue and lasts for only eight minutes. The plot, if such a term is appropriate, encompasses a car journey through Paris, albeit one filmed in one-take and at breakneck speeds.
It is this element that has allowed the film to gain its cult following, particular amongst motor enthusiasts; indeed, the DVD sleeve is plastered with quotes from Jeremy Clarkson and ‘Car & Driver’ magazine. Admittedly, my interest in this subject is negligible at best, rather my reason for tracking down and purchasing a copy was prompted by my enthusiasm for the obscurer aspects of cinema, and given the film’s reputation it certainly fits this this description. The legend of C’était un rendezvous (detailed in the production notes accompanying the disc) revolves around Lelouch’s alleged arrest and the belief that a famed formula one racer may have been commandeering the vehicle, and it is these elements that have driven the film underground. It is only with the release of this DVD that the film finally gets a legitimate home video release, having spent many years being solely “available” on second or third generation bootlegs which have eagerly swapped hands for up to and around sixty pounds.
The most obvious reference points for the film buff, as apposed to the motor buff, are the classics of car chase cinema. Owing to the film’s reputation it is only right that the comparisons be made with the giants of this most cinematic of scenes; Bullitt’s San Francisco dash, for example, or The French Connection’s REAL pursuit. (The aforementioned Clarkson quote reads “It makes Bullitt look like a cartoon”.) However, despite these sequences being the centrepiece of their respective movies, both gained from the context of the rest of the film. Here, Lelouch throws the viewer straight into the action, allowing for no exposition. Indeed, the film only makes sense when it finally provides its punchline. What’s interesting is how this revelation ties C’était un rendezvous in with the rest of Lelouch’s work (it’s worth noting that the title of the film and the director’s credit only appear at exactly this point) and, without spoiling the ending, proves that a little Lelouch goes a long way.
Picture and Sound
Digitally remastered for this release, C’était un rendezvous is released in a non-anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer. The picture looks fine, though admittedly the fact that it was filmed in the early morning (and therefore with little light) and at such high speeds make it difficult to give this a true assessment.
Soundwise, Spirit Level have offered the viewer the choice of Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Surround or Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. The basic option is fine, though the other two are preferable as they add to the subjectivity that the hood-mounted camera set-up allows. (It should be noted that the sound consists purely of the noise made by the vehicle’s motor.)
Sadly the disc is limited when it comes to extras. Apart from a few brief trailers, the viewer is also offered production notes detailing the myths and legends surround the film. Totalling four pages, these notes should allow for a decent grounding in the film's history.
An interesting film, and certainly Claude Lelouch's best, though one that is unlikely to find a wide appeal. Emphasising this fact are the scanty extras and the admittedly hefty price tag for a film which lasts under ten minutes.
This title is only available from Spirit Level Film.