A key member of the new wave of female French directors, Claire Denis toiled for more than 10 years as an assistant director before winning international acclaim with her first feature film, "Chocolat" (1988), a semi-autobiographical tale of a young French girl in Africa. "Chocolat," co-written with Jean-Pol Fargeau, was a meditation on colonialism. The woman returning to Africa is driven by an American black and the intertwining of their stories links the pair to the continent through issues of native identity. It was the official French entry in the Cannes Film Festival.
A graduate of the prestigious IDHEC, Denis began her professional career making short films, including one with the Great Magic Circus at the Arles Festival in Provence. Other shorts were produced by Pathe for the Chronicles of France series. In 1974, she was hired as a production assistant on "Le Vieux fusil/The Hidden Gun," directed by Robert Enrico, and by 1978 was assistant director to Alain Fleischer on "Zoo-Zero." She was AD to Costa-Gavras on "Hannah K" (1983) and to indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch on "Down By Law" (1986). It was her connection with German Wim Wenders that triggered "Chocolat." Working as Wenders' AD on "Paris, Texas" (1984), Denis thought the terrain of the American Southwest was similar to that of Cameroon, where she had spent her childhood. While working on "Wings of Desire" (1998), she began to seek financing and eventually Wenders became one of her backers.
Following the success of "Chocolat," Denis directed "Man No Run" (1989), a concert film with the Cameroon band Les Tetes Brulees. Africa was again part of Denis' motif in "S'en fout la mort/No Fear, No Die" (1990), about two Africans involved in cock fighting and again the director explored issues of racism and colonialism. She wrote and directed "J'ai pas sommeil/I Can't Sleep" (1993), a thriller which examined the intersection of seemingly unrelated, yet overlapping lives, and "U.S. Go Home" (1994), a coming of age story about teens who want to lose their virginity. In 1996, Denis scripted and helmed "Nenette et Boni," the story of a sister and a brother forging a new relationship after the death of their mother.
Denis has also worked occasionally for French TV, including "Jacques Rivette, le veilleur" (1989) and "La Robe a cerceaux" (1992). Additionally, she acted in "Mais ou et donc ornicar" (1979) and as the teen lead's mother in "En avoir (ou pas)/To Have (Or Not)" (1995).
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Lived with civil servant father and family in Africa
Sent back to France to live with her grandfather in Paris
Worked as production assistant for director Robert Enrico on "Le Vieux fusil/The Hidden Gun"
Was first assistant director for Alain Fleischer on "Zoo-Zero"
Acting debut in "Mais ou et donc ornicar"
Produced short film with the Great Magic Circus
Was first assistant director for Wim Wenders on "Paris, Texas"
Co-wrote and directed first feature film, "Chocolat"
Again worked with Wenders on "Wings of Desire"
Directed first TV project, "Jacques Rivette, le veilleur"
Made "Man No Run", a documentary on the tour of the African band Les Tetes Brulees
Returned to fiction, scripting and directing "No Fear, No Die"
Directed and wrote "Nenette et Boni"
Received widespread praise for her lyrical "Beau Travail", loosely adapted from "Billy Budd"
Helmed the thriller "Trouble Every Day", starring Vincent Gallo; released theatrically in USA in 2002