Greatest French Directors

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1.
Jean-Luc Godard
Director, My Life to Live
Jean-Luc Godard was born in Paris on December 3, 1930, the second of four children in a bourgeois Franco-Swiss family. His father was a doctor who owned a private clinic, and his mother came from a preeminent family of Swiss bankers. During World War II Godard became a naturalized citizen of Switzerland and attended school in Nyons (Switzerland)...
 
2.
Jean Renoir
Son of the famous Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste, he had a happy childhood. Pierre Renoir was his brother, and Claude Renoir was his nephew. After the end of World War I, where he won the Croix de Guerre, he moved from scriptwriting to filmmaking. He married Catherine Hessling, for whom he began to make movies; he wanted to make a star of her...
 
3.
François Truffaut
François began to assiduously go to the movies at 7. He was also a great reader but not a good pupil. He left school at 14 and started working. In 1947, aged 15, he founded a film club and met André Bazin, a French critic, who becomes his protector. Bazin helped the delinquent Truffaut and also when he was put in jail because he deserted the army...
 
4.
Luc Besson
Luc Besson spent the first years of his life following his parents, scuba diving instructors, around the world. His early life was entirely aquatic. He already showed amazing creativity as a youth, writing early drafts of The Big Blue and The Fifth Element, as an adolescent bored in school. He...
 
5.
Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau was one of the most multi-talented artists of the 20th century. In addition to being a director, he was a poet, novelist, painter, playwright, set designer, and actor. He began writing at 10 and was a published poet by age 16. He collaborated with the "Russian Ballet" company of Sergei Diaghilev...
 
6.
Robert Bresson
Robert Bresson trained as a painter before moving into films as a screenwriter, making a short film (atypically a comedy), Public Affairs in 1934. After spending more than a year as a German POW during World War II, he made his debut with Angels of Sin in 1943. His next film, Les dames du Bois de Boulogne would be the last time he would work with professional actors...
 
7.
Jean Vigo
Writer, L'Atalante
Jean Vigo had bad health since he was a child. Son of anarchist militant Miguel Almareyda, he also never really recovered from his father's mysterious death in jail when he was 12. Abandoned by his mother, he passed from boarding school to boarding school. Aged 23, through meetings with people involved in the movies...
 
8.
Louis Malle
Louis Malle, the descendant of a French nobleman who made a fortune in beet sugar during the Napoleonic Wars, created films that explored life and its meaning. Malle's family discouraged his early interest in film but, in 1950, allowed him to enter the Institute of Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Paris...
 
9.
Jean-Pierre Melville
Writer, Le Samouraï
The name "Melville" is not immediately associated with film. It conjures up images of white whales and crackbrained captains, of naysaying notaries and soup-spilling sailors. It is the countersign to a realm of men and their deeds, both heroic and villainous. It is the American novel, with its Ishmaels and its Claggarts a challenge to the European canon...
 
10.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Director, Amélie
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a self-taught director who was very quickly interested by cinema, with a predilection for a fantastic cinema where form is as important as the subject. Thus he started directing TV commercials and video clips (such as Julien Clerc in 1984). At the same time he met designer/drawer Marc Caro with whom he made two short animation movies: L'évasion and Le manège...
 
11.
Jacques Tati
The comic genius Jacques Tati was born Taticheff, descended from a noble Russian family. His grandfather, Count Dimitri, had been a general in the Imperial Army and had served as military attaché to the Russian Embassy in Paris. His father, Emmanuel Taticheff, was a well-to-do picture framer who conducted his business in the fashionable Rue de Castellane and had taken a Dutch-Italian woman...
 
14.
Henri-Georges Clouzot
Writer, Diabolique
After a decade as a screenwriter, Clouzot made his directorial debut in 1942. His next film, Le Corbeau: The Raven had the distinction of being banned both by the Nazis and the victorious French forces for differing reasons. He shot to international fame with The Wages of Fear and consolidated that success with Diabolique...
 
15.
Alice Guy
Generally considered to be the world's first female director, French-born Alice Guy entered the film business as a secretary at Gaumont-Paris in 1896. The next year Gaumont changed from manufacturing cameras to producing movies, and Guy became one of its first film directors. She impressed the the company...
 
18.
Éric Rohmer
Admirers have always had difficulty explaining Éric Rohmer's "Je ne sais quoi." Part of the challenge stems from the fact that, despite his place in French Nouvelle Vague (i.e., New Wave), his work is unlike that of his colleagues. While this may be due to the auteur's unwillingness to conform, some have argued convincingly that...
 
19.
Jacques Rivette
Although François Truffaut has written that the New Wave began "thanks to Rivette," the films of this masterful French director are not well known. Rivette, like his "Cahiers du Cinéma" colleagues Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Éric Rohmer, did graduate to filmmaking but, like Rohmer...
 
21.
Catherine Breillat
Catherine Breillat is a Paris based filmmaker and writer who became famous for her distinctively personal films on sexuality, gender trouble and sibling rivalry. Accused of being a "porno auteuriste", Breillat allowed for an unbiased view of sexuality and extended the language of mainstream movies. She is also a best-selling novelist and wrote her first novel...
 
22.
Costa-Gavras
Director, Missing
 
24.
Claude Chabrol
Director, La Cérémonie
French film director considered a master in the mystery genre. He is credited with starting the "nouvelle vague" French film movement.
 
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Bertrand Tavernier
Director, 'Round Midnight
Bertrand Tavernier was a law student that preferred write film criticisms. He also wrote a few books about American movies. Then his first film won a few awards in France and abroad and established his reputation.
 
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29.
Abel Gance
Writer, Napoleon
Despite parental pressure to pursue a 'respectable' career, Abel Gance was addicted to the theatre, and made his acting debut at the age of 19. He started acting in films in 1909 because he needed the money - he was deeply unimpressed with the film medium at that point. But he continued acting...
 
30.
Georges Méliès
Georges Melies, a professional magician by training, first saw the new "moving pictures" in 1895. Little over a year later, Melies was filming and projecting his own creations. By accident, he discovered that he could use stop-motion photography to render trick visual effects. Melies was also the first to use techniques such as the fade-in...
 
31.
Maurice Tourneur
Screenwriter and director Maurice Tourneur was born Maurice Thomas in the Parisian suburb of Belleville on February 2, 1873, the son of a jewelry merchant. He was trained and employed as a graphic designer and a magazine illustrator as a young man. After serving in a French artillery unit in northern Africa...
 
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René Clément
Director, Forbidden Games
René Clément was one of the leading French directors of the post-World War II era. He directed what are regarded as some of the greatest films of the time, such as The Battle of the Rails, Forbidden Games and The Day and the Hour. He was later almost forgotten as a director. He was back in public attention briefly when his epic Is Paris Burning? (with an all-star cast of famous actors) was released in 1966...
 
36.
Marcel Carné
Marcel Carné, the son of a cabinet maker, entered the movies as the assistant of Jacques Feyder. At the age of 25 he directed his first movie Jenny. Colaborating with the writer Jacques Prévert, the decorator Alexandre Trauner, the musician and composer Maurice Jaubert and the actor Jean Gabin...
 
37.
Roger Vadim
Writer, Barbarella
Roger Vadim was born Roger Vladimir Igorevich Plemyannikov, on January 26, 1928, in Paris, France. Although his father gave him the first name Vladimir, the French law then required a French first name. His father, Igor Nikolaevich Plemyannikov, was a Russian-Ukrainian aristocrat who was born in Kiev...
 
39.
Jacques Becker
Writer, Le Trou
His interest in films was stimulated by a meeting with King Vidor, who offered him employment in the US as actor and assistant director. However, he remained in France and became assistant to Jean Renoir, a friend of the family, during that director's peak period (1932-39). In 1934 he ventured briefly into independent production...
 
43.
Marguerite Duras
Ms. Duras was born in southern Vietnam and lost her father at age 4. The family savings of 20 years bought the family a small plot in Cambodia, but everything was lost in a single season's flooding. The disaster killed her mother as a result. After high school in Saigon, Ms. Duras left Indochina to study law in Paris...
 
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Max Ophüls
Director Max Ophüls was born Max Oppenheimer in Saarbrücken, Germany. He began his career as a stage actor and director in the golden twenties. He worked in cities such as Stuttgart, Dortmund, Wuppertal, Vienna, Frankfurt, Breslau and Berlin. In 1929 his son Marcel Ophüls was born in Frankfurt, Germany...
 
47.
Marcel Camus
Director, Black Orpheus
The work of Marcel Camus is characterized by a lyricism which, although central to his fine films of the 1950s and 60s - Fugitive in Saigon(aka: FUGITIVE IN SAIGON), Black Orpheus(aka:BLACK ORPHEUS) and Love in the Night - later deteriorated into superficial sentimentality. Camus was a professor of painting and sculpture before breaking into film as an assistant to Alexandre Astruc...
 
48.
Julien Duvivier
Director, Pépé le Moko
Revered by such legendary fellow directors as Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir, Julien Duvivier is one of the greatest figures in the history of French cinema and of world cinema in general. He is perhaps the most neglected of the "Big Five" of classic French cinema (the other four being Jean Renoir, Rene Clair...
 
49.
Georges Franju
Georges Franju is a figure of immense importance in the history of French cinema, not primarily for his films (exceptional though many of these are) but for being the co-founder, with Henri Langlois, of the Cinematheque Française in 1937--France's most famous and important film archive. He worked primarily as a film archivist until 1949...
 
50.
Alain Robbe-Grillet
Born in Brest, France, in 1922, Alain Robbe-Grillet initially studied mathematics and biology. He graduated from the Paris-based Institut National Agronomique (National Institute of Agronomy) in 1945 and embarked on a career of scientific research in the tropics and in France. Then at age 30 he decided to change the direction of his career and concentrate on the thorny problem of literature...
 
52.
Leos Carax
Director, Holy Motors
Leos Carax made several short films and also wrote film criticism, then at the age of 24 years made a very strong first feature Boy Meets Girl. The film played at the 1984 Cannes film festival and was a critical triumph. It paved the way for Carax's second feature Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood). That film was a giant step forward in the same direction that he was going in with his first film...
 
54.
Émile Cohl
Director, Fantasmagorie
Pioneering animator Emile Cohl was born Emile Eugène Jean Louis Courtet in Paris, France, in 1857. He began his career as a caricaturist, cartoonist and writer in his 20s, and in 1908 he was hired by the Gaumont film company as a writer. He soon also became a director, turning out comedies and fantasies...
 
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Sacha Guitry
French actor, dramatist and director, Sacha Guitry was born in 1885 in Saint-Petersburg where his father, actor Lucien Guitry, was under contract with the city's French theater. Early on, Sacha knew he was going to be an artist. Therefore, his studies were mediocre. His acting debuts were not too encouraging either...
 
64.
Louis Lumière
Although no one will ever come up with a definitive answer as to who invented the cinema (probably because no one single person was responsible), Louis Lumiere has one of the strongest claims to the title - for it was he (with his brother Auguste) who invented the cinematographe: a machine that combined...
 
65.
Germaine Dulac
The daughter of a cavalry captain, she was raised by a grandmother in Paris, where she studied various forms of art with an emphasis on music and the opera. In 1905 she married engineer-novelist Marie-Louis Albert-Dulac and under his influence veered toward journalism. As one of the leading radical feminists of her day...
 
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Louis Feuillade
Director, Les vampires
A prolific director--over 700 films, most of them short- or medium-length--Louis Feuillade began his career with Gaumont where, as well as directing his own features, he was appointed artistic director in charge of production in 1907. His work was largely comprised of film series; his first series, begun in 1910 and numbering 15 episodes...
 
79.
Alexandre Astruc
Born in Paris on July 13th 1923, Alexandre Astruc is the son of a couple of journalists. Very good at school, he attended a preparatory school for Polytechnique but finally became both a law and an arts graduate. First a literary critic, he soon specialized as a film critic and worked for various papers and magazines such as "Combat"...
 
80.
Jean-Pierre Mocky
As an actor he became popular as Albert de Morcerf in a version of The Count of Monte Cristo, fame and adulation followed with his Francois in Head Against the Wall. As a director he became famous with anarcho-pictures, brilliant cynic comedies. His preferred actors in all decades were Michel Serrault and Jean Poiret - till the late 80s they were his leading stars...
 
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“ Swiss director ” - z_ingle