Claire Denis in Let the Sunshine In (“Un beau soleil intérieur”)
© Wild Bunch Distribution

Claire Denis

We cannot make films if the love is not there.

Violent, disturbing, joyful: Claire Denis' work celebrates love in all its forms. Her taste for bold formal experiences makes her one of the most recognised French filmmakers abroad.


Updated on 18/03/2019

2 min

The daughter of a French civil servant in Africa, Claire Denis spent her childhood, in the 1950s, between Cameroon and Burkina Faso – two countries for which a nostalgia strongly pervades her work. Back in Paris, she discovered Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu's cinema, but felt rootless.

Her vocation as a filmmaker is the result of two major encounters: As a recent graduate of the Institut des hautes études cinema (now the Fémis), she worked as an assistant to both Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch on set. Both encouraged her to make films, and she moved behind the camera with Chocolate (Chocolat) (1988), her first feature film largely inspired by her childhood memories.

Whether she’s winning a Golden Leopard at Locarno for Nénette and Boni (“Nénette et Boni”) (1996) or shaking up Cannes with Trouble Every Day (2001), her harsh and lyrical work rarely leaves audiences indifferent.


Claire Denis’s work is first arresting for its relationship with the body. Marked by choreographies both tortured (the legionnaires of Beau Travail, 1999) and sensual (the love triangle of 35 Shots of Rum (“35 Rhums”), 2008), her films use movement to access feeling. Love and desire are the overarching motifs the filmmaker deploys to interrogate the relationship between lovers on a one night stand, or brothers and sisters.

Loyal to her actors – notably Alex Descas and Grégoire Colin – as well as to her cinematographer Agnès Godard and the poisonous music of the Tindersticks, her work often takes on a dark tone. The filmmaker, who says she is "as pessimistic as you can get", almost never condemns her characters and likes to remain turned towards the light, as in the romantic comedy Let the Sunshine In (2017).

Since her first film, Claire Denis has flitted between the different branches of French cinema. Far from a naturalist, she has developed a singular perspective that grants her a unique position on the international stage. Although her style is not always popular with French critics, marked as it is by a radical and sensual treatment of colour and the body, the filmmaker enjoys a major reputation abroad.

From Barry Jenkins (an Oscar-winner for Moonlight, 2016) to Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann, 2016), many young filmmakers confess a fascination with her work. Robert Pattinson, who played Edward in the popular Twilight series, has also chosen the filmmaker to help him take a new career direction: he asked Claire Denis for the main role in High Life (2018).

Nénette and Boni ( "Nénette et Boni") ( extract)
Nénette and Boni ( "Nénette et Boni") ( extract)
  • 1950


    Claire Denis spends her childhood in Africa. This period will profoundly influence her.

  • 1969


    Claire Denis spends her childhood in Africa. This period will profoundly influence her.

  • 1984


    Claire Denis is Wim Wenders' assistant for Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, then Jim Jarmusch assistant for Down by Law.

  • 1988


    Her first feature film, Chocolate, is a tale of the end of the colonial era in Africa. The film is largely inspired by the filmmaker's childhood memories.

  • 1996


    The director receives the Golden Leopard in Locarno for Nénette and Boni, the tale of two codependent siblings in night-time Marseille. The film, bathed in a harsh light, is marked by the presence of the two actors,Alex Descas and Grégoire Colin.

The Institut français and the director.

Seven films by Claire Denis are distributed internationally by the Institut français: No Fear, No Die (“S'en fout la mort”, 1990), Jacques Rivette, The Watchman (“Jacques Rivette, le veilleur”, 1990), I Can’t Sleep (“J'ai pas sommeil”, 1993), Good Work (“Beau travail”, 1999), The Intruder (“L'Intrus”, 2004), Trouble Every Day (2001), 35 Shots of Rum (“35 Rhums”, 2008).


The Institut français offers a catalogue of over 2,500 titles, enabling the French cultural network and its partners to screen French films around the world.


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