“C’était un rendez-vous”: Claude Lelouch's crazy race

At dawn on an August day, forty-six years ago – 1976 – the French film director Claude Lelouch (author of “A Man and a Woman”) grappled with one of the craziest, most controversial and extraordinary attempts at motoring cinema. Original title: “C’était un rendez-vous”. This is the story of a man running from his woman.

Pictures © Les Films 13 Archive

A modern story, one of wild and reckless romanticism. A subjective sequence shot, eight-and-a-half minutes’ long, covering ten kilometres through the streets of Paris, in a car at ultra-high speed: "The film was made without any tricks and is not speeded up," reads the initial warning. Without any stops, not even at a red traffic light, up to the steps leading to the “Sacré-Cœur”. A beautiful blonde girl appears, the only face seen in the whole film. The man gets out of the car, enters the frame and a still image freezes their embrace.

The girl is Gunilla Friden, ex Miss Sweden and semi-finalist in the 1968 Miss World competition, at that time French director Claude Lelouch’s fiancée. The instructions were clear: “Wait at the bottom, and run up the steps as soon as you hear the sound of a car,” Lelouch told her, with no further explanation.

The only accomplice in this crazy adventure was Élie Chouraqui, the director’s assistant, who stood at a crossroads where there was not enough visibility. Using a walkie talkie, he was supposed to inform the driver if there were any pedestrians or other obstacles. But, as Lelouch himself later declared, the radio transmitters were faulty and there was no way of communicating during the shoot.