When it was first released in 1976, French short film C’etait Un Rendezvous caused public outrage and was banned from cinemas. Now, more than thirty years later the film is being re-released by Spirt Level Film, yet still has the same power to shock and inspire. We ask Rich Symons of Spirit Level Film why the hype never died.

WHAT DREW YOU TO THE FILM C’ETAIT UN RENDEZVOUS?

The conflict. It appalls and thrills to such an extreme. An assault on your most basic senses which left me exhilarated – even thrilled, yet my head was telling me this was the most outrageous, irresponsible, criminal act. I watched it with friends and they couldn’t believe what they were seeing, to such an extent we thought it must have been faked and watched it half a dozen times before finally admitting it must be real. Hence Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson’s reaction “It makes Steve McQueen’s Bullitt look like a cartoon”. My first instinct was to film a version in London so I asked a racing driver friend of mine to take a look at it and he flat out refused, said it couldn’t be done, to even attempt it would be insanely irresponsible.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT AND WHY DO YOU THINK THE FILM WORKS, IT’S UNLIKE MUCH ELSE WE’VE SEEN RECENTLY?

The film cuts through to everything we hold dear as human beings, that’s why it works. l don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but the driver redeems himself at the end because as the film unwinds you slowly realise you’re in the hands of a psychopath, someone who simply ignores all moral codes, has a complete disregard for life itself, let alone the rules and regulations of a civilised society. He throws them all out the window to such a degree that by halfway through you’re hating him and never even think about why he may be doing it. That’s why by the time you reach the end, when the reason is revealed, you’re not only surprised to find there’s a reason (because surely no-one with any semblance of reason could behave this way), but there’s a second shock to the system when you find yourself empathising with the driver. What could possibly justify such outrageous behaviour ? Lelouch shows us and that leaves the viewer conflicted – not least because once you’ve got over the sensory assault, you realise you’ve enjoyed the ride.

TELL US ABOUT THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING THE FILM – WHY WAS IT BANNED?

There was public outrage when it was first screened. The reaction’s pretty dramatic when we screen it now, so in 1976 when it was originally released you can only imagine what it must have been like. Apart from the obvious criminal acts in the film, I think the impact is made much worse because of the conflict between being thrilled and appalled. It pulls at such emotional extremes that you’re conflicted not only by the film but by your own reaction. It makes you question your own instincts. In that respect it taps into the best and worst sides of human nature in the most direct fashion.

Lelouch refused to talk about it for years and that just fuelled the myths surrounding the film and it started to take on a life of it’s own at underground screenings. When I first heard about it there were pirate VHS copies being traded at $50 a piece and then when poor quality streams started appearing on-line people started speculating about all the rumours; was it a formula one driver at the wheel or was it Lelouch? Was Lelouch really arrested? Was the car really the iconic Ferrari 275 GTB as driven by James Coburn? Was it real ? If so, how did he do it? Amazingly we still get people saying they think it was fake. Maybe that’s just testament to how impossible it seems.

DO YOU THINK IT WARRANTED THIS KIND OF REACTION?

I think so. We get pretty much the same reaction with audiences today at cinema screenings. On a big screen with a great sound system it’s packs a hell of a punch – and as you said earlier, we’ve not seen much like it. That’s why we were finally convinced to release it on BluRay and DVD – watching it on a laptop with headphones and the sound dialled up to 11 is a pretty intense experience – but a home cinema system takes it to another level. Plus it’s so much fun to watch it with friends.

YOU TESTED IT AT AN IMAX – WHAT WAS THE REACTION LIKE THERE?

Gob-smacked. No other word for it. I’ve seen the film so many times I thought it’d be fun to sit at the front and watch the audience – they went through the whole gamut of emotions – confused at first, then minute by minute their eyes get wider, mouths open, jaws to the floor. Then there’s a few frowns, people getting pissed off, more and more outraged and finally it’s all smiles and applause – some kind of release I think. That’s when the arguing starts – as they absorb what they’ve seen and started to analyse their own reactions or the reactions of their partner. It’s certainly made us want to do a run of Imax screenings.

WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEXT FILM, SURROUNDING THE LIFE OF OSCAR ARIAS?

That’s from our new series of documentary films, The Price of Kings which has world leaders confronting their conscience and revealing the real price of power. Arias kind of completes the first two films on Presidents Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres because he solved what was thought to be an impossible conflict and brought peace to a region without military force, without an army of his own and against the superpowers whereas the middle east conflict is still well and truly with us. Arias is kind of the anti-politician. Not a great speaker, shy, intellectual, but he leads with logic and ends up turning Central American dictators on to peace and democracy, turning congress against Reagan. Then he blows the love of his people in his second term.

Across the first three films you get to see the best and worst in human nature when confronted with some of the worst circumstances you can face, forced to make some of the worst decisions you make. Arias was a breath of fresh air after Peres and Arafat, he’s the guy who shows us that with the right political will, you can get there. Having said that, nobody believed him at the time – the media, his people, the super-powers, Thatcher – everyone was against him, his family were scared but the guy stood his ground. He even had the head of the CIA on his back, Reagan sent him to Costa Rica. Arias refused to see him. I love that.

Watch the trailer for The Prince of Kings here.

Get £5 off C’etait Un Rendezvous by entering the code HUNGER at the checkout when buying a copy of the film on DVD or BluRay from Spirit Level Film. We’ve just made your Christmas shopping easy.

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