Top 10 of the greatest French directors

French cinema is exported all over the world. And the films of French directors do not only create a sensation in French cinemas. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of talented French filmmakers.

Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of the greatest current French directors. Indeed, we could have mentioned Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Jean-Jacques Beineix or Bertrand Tavernier, we could even have gone back to Jean Renoir, but we decided to focus on living directors. And we deliberately omitted Roman Polanski, because we do not separate the man from the artist.

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1) The greatest French directors: Claude Lelouch

Claude Lelouch received a camera from his father to become a news cameraman. He started his career as a reporter. During his military service, he was assigned to the film service of the armies, making seven films for the army, which taught him acting direction. After his service, Claude Lelouch created a production company, Les Films 13, then he began the production of his first feature film. “Claude Lelouch, remember this name, you will never hear about it again”writes a critic in The cinema notebooks, at the release of the film. Big mistake: Claude Lelouch has become one of the greatest French filmmakers by directing around fifty feature films.

Notable movies:

  • A man and a woman (1966);
  • Adventure is adventure (1972);
  • One and the other (nineteen eighty one) ;
  • All that for this (1993);
  • Wretched (1994)
  • one plus one (2015)

Un plus une, a French film directed by Claude Lelouche released in 2015. Credit: Netflix

Awards:

  • Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966 for A man and a woman ;
  • Golden Globes for best foreign film in 1967 for A man and a woman ;
  • Oscar for best original screenplay and best foreign film in 1967 for A man and a woman ;
  • Golden Globes for best foreign film in 1996 for Wretched.

Favorite actors:

Claude Lelouch has several times turned John Paul Belmondo (A man I like1969; Itinerary of a spoiled child, 1988; and Wretched1995), but his favorite actor was Charles Gérard (1922-2019), whom he had played secondary roles in about twenty of his films.

Quote : “The essential is never where you think it is.”

2) The greatest French directors: Bertrand Blier

Son of actor Bernard Blier (1916-1989), Bertrand Blier began his career as a director in 1963 with a documentary on Hitler. He then directed his father in his first fiction feature film: if i was a spy (1967). His career exploded thanks to the success of waltzersin 1974.

Notable movies:

  • The waltzers (1974);
  • Get ready handkerchief (1978);
  • Cold buffet (1979);
  • Evening dress (1986);
  • The sound of ice cubes (2010)

The sound of ice cubes, a film directed by Bertrand Bilier with Jean Dujardin and Albert Dupontel. Credit: Thelma Films

Awards:

  • Oscar for best foreign language film in 1978 for Prepare your tissues ;
  • César Award for Best Original or Adapted Screenplay in 1980 for Cold buffet ;
  • César Award for Best Original or Adapted Screenplay in 1985 for Notre histoire;
  • Grand Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival for too beautiful for you ;
  • César for best film, best director and best original or adapted screenplay in 1990 for Too beautiful for you.

Favorite actor:

Bertrand Blier revealed Gérard Depardieu to the general public by having him play in The Valseuses. He then directed him in seven more films.

Quote : “What touches me in the actors? Can we say what touches us in oxygen?

3) The greatest French directors: Celine Sciamma

After training as a screenwriter at La Femis, Céline Sciamma used her graduation script to direct her first feature film, Naissance des pieuvres (2006), with which she attracted attention. The beginning of a career as a filmmaker which promises to be long, in addition to his career as a screenwriter.

Notable movies:

  • birth of octopuses (2006);
  • tomboy (2011);
  • Portrait of the girl on fire (2019)

Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel in Portrait of the young girl on fire / Credit: Portrait of the young girl on fire

Awards:

  • César for the best adaptation in 2017 for My Zucchini Life (scriptwriter) ;
  • Screenplay Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 for Portrait of the girl on fire.

Quote : “The more intimate we are, the more political we are.”

4) The greatest French directors: Jacques Audiard

Son of director Michel Audiard, Jacques Audiard was destined for a career in teaching, before abandoning his studies in literature to embark on cinema. He started as an assistant editor, before becoming an editor. In the 1980s, he started writing screenplays. He made his first film in 1994, Watch the men fall. First of a long list.

Notable movies:

  • On my lips (2001);
  • a prophet (2009);
  • Of rust and bone (2012);
  • Dheepan (2015) ;
  • The Sisters Brothers (2018)

The Sisters Brothers, a film directed by Jacques Audiard with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix. Credit: Why not Productions

Awards:

  • César for the best first work in 1995 for Watch the men fall ;
  • Prize for best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996 for A very discreet hero ;
  • César for Best Screenplay in 2002 for On my lips ;
  • César for Best Film, Best Director and Best Adaptation in 2006 for The Beat That My Heart Skipped ;
  • Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 for a prophet ;
  • César for Best Film, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay in 2010 for a prophet ;
  • Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 for Dheepan ;
  • César for best director in 2019 for The Sisters Brothers.

Quote : “The cinema, very early on, proved that it was better to hide than to show.”

5) The greatest French directors: Cedric Klapisch

Cédric Klapisch studied cinema at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University then at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint-Denis, then he left for the United States to study cinema at the University of New York. Back in France, he began his career as an electrician on set, before going on to become a screenwriter and director.

Notable movies:

  • The young peril (1994);
  • Everyone is looking for their cat (1996);
  • The Spanish inn (2002)

Romain Duris and Cécile de France in The Spanish Inn / Credit: BAC Films

Reward :

  • César Award for Best Original Screenplay or Adaptation in 1997 for A family resemblance.

Favorite actor:

By giving the main role of Young Peril to Romain Duris, Cédric Klapisch revealed the actor who took over to play Xavier in his trilogy: The Spanish inn (2002), Russian dolls (2005) and Chinese puzzle (2013).

Quote : “For an author, finding a story and falling in love are pretty much the same thing.”

6) The greatest French directors: Maiwenn

Before becoming a director, Maïwenn began as an actress… from an early age. At only three years old, his mother took him to castings. She played in Leon (1994) and The fifth Element (1997), by Luc Besson. She also appeared in The Parisians (2004) and The Courage to Love (2005), by Claude Lelouch. In 2006, she directed her first film: Excuse me. She confirmed her talents as a filmmaker with The actresses ball (2009) then polishes (2011).

Notable movies:

  • The actresses ball (2009);
  • polishes (2011);
  • My king (2015) ;
  • DNA (2020)

Official poster of the film ADL, a film by Maïwenn. / Credit: Cannes Film Festival

Awards:

  • Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 for polishes.

7) The greatest French directors: Michael Gondry

Michel Gondry began his career in music, with the group Oui Oui, in which he is a drummer and of which he directs several clips. After the separation of the group, he continues the realization of clip, working for Björk, Rolling Stones, IAM or Kylie Minogue. In the 2000s, he became a director with his first feature film Human Nature, which was a box office failure. His second feature film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mindhe will meet with great success.

Notable movies:

  • Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind (2004) ;
  • Be nice, rewind (2008);
  • The foam of the day (2013)

Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind / Credit: Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

Awards:

  • Oscars for Best Original Screenplay in 2005 forEternal sunshine of the spotless mind.

8) The greatest French directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Jean-Pierre Jeunet started out as a director of commercials and music videos. Then, with the designer Marc Caro, with whom he made several short films, he made his first film Delicatessen (1991). The success is immediate.

Notable movies:


Audrey Tautou in The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain / Credit: The Fabulous Destiny by Amélie Poulain

Awards:

  • César for the best first work and the best original screenplay or adaptation in 1992 forDelicatessen;
  • César for Best Film and Best Director for The fabulous destiny of Amelie Poulain.

Quote : “No director will make an actor good who is not good.”

9) The greatest French directors: Michel Hazanavicius

Michel Hazanavicius began his career as a screenwriter for television, notably for Les Nuls sketches on Canal+. He then shot commercials before making movies.

Notable movies:

  • OSS 117: Cairo, nest of spies (2006);
  • OSS 117: Rio is unresponsive (2009);
  • The Artist (2011);
  • Cut! (2022)

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in The Artist / Credit: The Artist

Awards:

  • César for best film and best director in 2012 for The Artist ;
  • Oscar for best director and best film in 2012 for The Artist.

Fetish actress: Michel Hazanavicius had Bérénice Béjo, who is now his wife, play in (almost) all of these films: OSS 117: Cairo, nest of spies (2006); The Artist (2011); The Search (2014) ; The Redoubtable (2017); The Forgotten Prince (2020) and Cut! (2022).

10) The greatest French directors: Emmanuelle Bercot

Emmanuelle Bercot took acting lessons at Cours Florent, before being admitted to La Fémis where she shot a documentary and a first short film. She became a filmmaker alongside her acting career.

Notable movies:

  • Clement (2001);
  • Backstage (2004) ;
  • Heads up (2015) ;
  • In his lifetime (2021)

Benoît Magimel in In his lifetime / Credit: In his lifetime

Awards:

  • Jury Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival for the short film Vacations.

Quote : “The interest, for me, is never so much in telling stories as in the desire to describe states, to exacerbate perceptions.”

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Top 10 of the greatest French directors