When Françoise Hardy Met Yves Montand

Françoise Hardy and Yves Montand on the set of “Grand Prix”, 1966 | photo taken from the book Yves Montand: La force du destin


In 1966, John Frankenheimer made Grand Prix, a film that paid tribute to car racing. The film was considered by the director himself not his best, but one of the most satisfactory films he had made because he was able to indulge into one of his fantasies – what his life would have been like if he had been a Ferrari driver. It was a big picture, because anything that must live up to one’s fantasy has to be grand, and it was above all a triumph of visual and technical style, and of a director’s personal vision, something worth standing up for. With an international cast that included James Garner, Yves Montand, Françoise Hardy, Eva Marie Saint and Toshirô Mifune, Grand Prix remains one of the true classics rooted in motor sports.

This great photograph of Yves Montand and Françoise Hardy from the set of the film lives on to document not just the film, but the story behind the camera. What would we do without the unit still photographers, those behind the lens who must get close while remaining unseen, ever-present yet invisible, incredibly quiet and gentle yet forceful and determined, in order to document the film as it’s being made but also capture the moment? A genuine moment of life between takes. It’s not just about the image, but about the feeling. This is how Françoise Hardy remembers her encounter with Yves Montand on the set of Grand Prix.

“It was in 1966 that I met Yves Montand during the long five-month shoot of Grand Prix, directed by John Frankenheimer. Fortunately Montand was there, because he was so warm, so funny, too, sometimes facetious. He was so kind to me that his presence made this shoot very pleasant. For the film, he had to take racing car driving lessons in England for a month, since he was playing the role of a Formula 1 driver. On the last day of filming, he could not prevent himself from expressing his relief of being rid of these damn vehicles forever. Filming took place on various major European motor racing circuits. When I had to go from Clermont-Ferrand to Milan (the Monza circuit), I had to drive there alone and Montand asked me to bring him his tape recorder. He wrote me a hilarious letter about this which says a lot about his personality as I knew him and which reminds me of him. Subsequently, he invited me to his premiere at the Olympia. I was seated in the first rows and was very touched to see how much of a traqueur he was: as we know, he sang perfectly well and mastered his gestures just as perfectly, but I could see how much his hands were shaking. Over time, I have realised even better the great actor that Montand was. And it is always with moved tenderness that I think of the good times with him in 1966.”


Steve McQueen and Le Mans: A talk with Pierre Vudrag

On and off set with unit still photographer Merie Weismiller Wallace

The Hollywood photography of Bob Willoughby:
In conversation with Christopher Willoughby

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