A monster breaks through its chains to escape certain death at the hands of gladiators for the entertainment of the Roman upper crust. Doesn’t really seem like the kind of image that could sell a Renault of any kind, let alone the Renault 18 Diesel, but there was one man who could make that work. And that man was Sergio Leone.
First, the unremarkable car. The Renault 18 was produced between 1978 and 1989 and was even sold in America, albeit with no diesel like the car in the ad and with 5 mph bumpers ruining the car’s simple but attractive proportions. I don’t know the specific model year featured in the ad, but it must have been after 1980 when the diesel was introduced and before a 1987 interview in which Leone discusses the ad.
And now, the remarkable director who made it work. Leone’s career as a filmmaker stretched across three decades. From the Spaghetti Western genre Leone pioneered with Clint Eastwood in the 1960s to his New York City crime epic Once Upon A Time In America in 1984, his mark on the medium was indelible. Quentin Tarantino certainly thought so, paying homage to Leone in an essay published in part by The Spectator. Tarantino argues that Leone was “the greatest combination of a complete film stylist, where he creates his own world, and storyteller,” and explains that Leone taught him how to “direct a movie through his camera.”
This ad is a great microcosm example of those qualities that show through in Leonoe’s best work. Using his trademark style of juxtaposing close-ups with wide-angle shots through quick cuts and zooms in and out, Leone gives the Renault the character it needs to convince buyers that a slow French diesel hatch is the one to buy, especially when the related but much sportier Fuego was also on offer. Also helping to drive the point home is original music from Ennio Morricone, Leone’s long-time collaborator from films like Fist Full of Dollars, which Tarantino called Leone’s “secret weapon.”
But more than anything technical, the ad gets you excited, and that’s what Renault was looking for. They needed someone to give a boring car for boring people the jolt it needed to get off the lot. And it probably did pretty well.