July 7, 2013

This mystery took a while to solve.

The background: this weekend I watched a film from 1958 titled Les Amants by the great French New Wave director, Louis Malle. At the end of the movie, two lovers leave their previous lives behind to begin anew. As they drive away from their small provincial village they pass a sign that reads, “Vandenesse“. A tall steeple diminishes in the background as the lovers speed away from the village. “With such a pronounced landmark and a clear road-sign, it’s going to be easy to re-trace this route” I thought. It turned out to be more difficult than anticipated.

Leaving Vandenesse

Leaving Vandenesse

I searched Vandenesse in Google Maps with the hopes of situating the road and scenery captured in the late fifties film. I looked for a tall steeple using Google Streetview. The landmark was nowhere to be found. Was the Vandenesse church demolished? Had the face of this small town changed so dramatically from the time it was immortalized in the closing sequences of Malle’s masterpiece? After hours of loosing things in translation and false leads–it turned out that the church does exist today–but in a different form and in an entirely different location than originally expected.

Here’s the findings: Les Amants was actually filmed in a small Burgundy village of Vandenesse-en-Auxois, not Vandenesse as seen on the road-sign in the film. Confusing? The two provincial villages are over 100 kilometers apart.

The pronounced church steeple in town has diminished over the years. Sometime between 1958 and 2013, the tall spire was dismantled. Today a simple roof covers the church tower at the centre of Vandenesse-en-Auxois. Here’s a comparison screenshot from Google Earth and a vintage black and white image (c. 1927).

Changing Church

Changing Church

Mystery solved. Here’s a video of my original intent of matching up the 1958 movie footage with Google Earth. Click on the image to see the final minute of Les Amants… FIN.

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